Success in Mediocrity

All the writing I did about Isla’s gifted and talented scores got me thinking about the idea of success and what that means for me.

When I was younger (high school-ish), I would’ve told you being successful was having a good job, being well-off and married. I thought my parents were successful, which they are, so I intended on emulating their lifestyle. But when I did go out into the “real world” after college, I couldn’t hang. I got a job hundreds of miles away, working as a reporter to a mid-size daily newspaper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. I missed my family, and even though I made friends, it was still so hard. My depression worsened for one, probably from being away from home and stress of my first job. I got in trouble a lot for calling in sick (either depression or migraines), and I ended up quitting just short of a year. I quit journalism too, even though I thought being a journalist was my calling. I felt like a loser, and I was really anxious and embarrassed about the whole thing.

I eventually got a new job where I could use my writing skills, but I still mourned the idea of not being a journalist.

I never found another job that made me feel as good as writing for a newspaper did. After a few years of working various jobs, I stopped working all together so I could get healthy enough to have a baby. People judged me for not working, but to be completely honest, it felt amazing to get that pressure off me. I did become healthier and had two beautiful babies within two years. I still haven’t gone back to work, and I like it that way.

When people ask me what I do for a living, and I say stay-at-home mom, it sometimes stings but I think that’s because society has conditioned us to believe that success only lies in one’s occupation. And for a lot of people, that’s true. But not I. It never occurred to me back then that that a job is just a job — it’s not who you are. And just because I don’t have one (that pays) doesn’t make me less of a person.

But it’s not about a job, house, how much money you have, etc. For me, it’s about happiness and being fulfilled. I was never the brightest, thinnest, most athletic, most ambitious person. I’m not even sure I’ve been the best at anything, and I say that not fishing for compliments but to proclaim that I might be mediocre in many ways but I’m also exceptional in others. I celebrate the fact that my life doesn’t have to parallel my parents’ or anyone else’s. I celebrate my strengths, even though they may not match others’. God made me the way I am for a reason. And you, too.

Success should look different for everyone, because we’re not all the same. We don’t have to be. We don’t have to join the rat race, either. All those “flaws” I thought I had before aren’t flaws at all, and I should celebrate them because they make me, me. I don’t get paid, but I write everyday and blog about a topic that I’m very passionate about. It makes me happy, and hopefully, I’m helping others in the process.

I will remember this about my kids as they grow up and try to figure out life as they know it. And I’ll support them, no matter what success means to them. Just like my parents did with me.

Just Say No

I don’t like saying no to my kids, big surprise, right? In the past, I haven’t wanted to hear them scream, whine or cry because I didn’t say yes. It makes me uncomfortable when they do that, and as you know, I hate being uncomfortable. So, if the kids wanted junk food, I’d say yes and if they wanted some kind of new toy, yes again.

Then it dawned on me — I got everything I ever wanted growing up (which I’m grateful for) but I never learned how to work hard for anything, and I don’t want that for my kids. I had no work ethic, and I never learned struggle or how to cope with it. Already, my kids are privileged and spoiled. They are accustomed to the finer things in life, and the last thing I want them to be are entitled assholes when they grow up. You see — I don’t need to be in the business of saying, “yes.” I NEED to say, “no,” because I want to raise them to be healthy adults. It’s not going to hurt them to hear, “no,” and it’s not going to hurt me, despite what I’m feeling at the time.

The consequences of not saying, “no,” are dire. I’ll admit that I’m not a healthy adult, but let me be clear — it’s not because of anything my parents did or didn’t do. My shortcomings are due to crappy genetics, crappy coping skills, among other things. But they’re there. I don’t want my children to suffer the way I do now. For example, I have an eating disorder — I don’t take care of myself the way I should by eating healthy; instead I binge eat when I’m stressed — alas, a crappy coping skill. I’ve also never had a job for more than three years. I’m dependent on my husband, which isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but I’d like both of my kids to be financially independent and have a good worth ethic.

I’ll confess that sometimes I feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick by having a severely depressed mother. Buying them toys, clothes and other crap is probably me trying to compensate for being ill. But logically, I know that material things don’t matter — experiences matter. Teaching them how to be healthy matters. Showing them how to overcome adversity matters, and I can do that. I’m resilient and scrappy, two traits I want them to have, too. I may not be the healthiest, but being sick all the time has made me stronger. I hope that’s what my children will see — that even though I suffer with a chronic, invisible disease, I still show up to fight….for myself and my family.

Ann Landers said, “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” She’s not wrong.

And that’s what I have to remember every time I say no. I’m not depriving them of anything — I’m shaping them into good people (I hope). I also need to remember this when I don’t feel like taking care of myself, because they’re watching and learning. It’s up to me to model healthy behavior, as hard as it is.

Parenting is hard. We all mess up and think we’re not good enough, me especially. Then I remember how Isla collected more than 1,000 toothbrushes for the homeless because she was worried they didn’t have money to brush their teeth. I recall how Eli puts his hand on my face and tells me he appreciates and loves me. They’re loving, kind and a product of their environment, which I’m extremely proud of. Learning to say no will be hard but it will definitely help in shaping them into healthy adults. I truly believe that.

And while I’m at it, maybe I can be shaped into a healthy adult, too.

My Eye’s on Eli’s Eye

When I was little, around 3 years old, my parents noticed that one of my eyes drifted outwardly — like a “lazy eye.” I had to wear patches on my eye to try and strengthen the muscle, I think. And when that didn’t work, I had two surgeries to correct it. They’re still not straight and my scars are minor. Not a huge deal to me.

Until I noticed that Eli’s eye drifted. It’s so slight, but I’ve been noticing it more and more. My mom commented on it as well, so I know I’m not “crazy.” Well, I am but not for this.

After my mom confirmed that she had noticed it too, I started to panic. Even though it’s barely noticeable and probably could be corrected by wearing patches, I was scared. I don’t want him to go through what I went through, especially the surgery. I started to think that Eli might have inherited more than the likelihood of a lazy eye, for instance my fucked up brain.

Wearing patches is one thing, but I desperately want him to avoid the migraines, major depression, anxiety, personality disorder and more. Logically, I know that him having a slight lazy eye doesn’t mean he’ll suffer my fate. But still, I worry.

He is, without question, my mini me. If you look at my school photos from when I was kid, it looks like Eli in a dress. There’s no denying our genetic connection. And I love that, but now it terrifies me, too.

It’s every parent’s wish that no harm befall their child, and adversity is supposed to make people stronger. It certainly has made me stronger, braver too. But oh my God…I’ve been through so much. I still go through so much just to try and live a somewhat “normal” life. Taking meds, going to weekly therapy appointments, doing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments — it takes a toll. Especially the ECT, where I literally have electric currents passing to my brain to induce a seizure. I talk about this a lot, I know, but it’s unbelievable to me at times that I have to go through extreme measures like that — just to be moderately depressed, not severely depressed. Just typing all that bums me out.

But — epiphany! — I still live a good life. It’s been hard as hell, I won’t lie. I’ve been so depressed that I couldn’t take care of myself and I’ve been suicidal. I’ve contemplated ending my life so many times that the thought is not alarming as it should be. But still, I’m happy with my life, despite what my brain tells me at times. I have it so good — good friends, amazing husband, wonderful children and beautiful home. I’m proud of myself for fighting everyday, and I’m proud of the mental health advocate I’ve become.

So, here’s my point: I suppose even if Eli (or Isla) has to face some sort of adversity, he will likely emerge stronger, wiser. Like me. Just like me. Because I’ve been through hell and back, I can guide and support him.

It’s so hard to let go of the worry, but he’ll be OK. Isla will be OK — more than OK. I believe they are destined to do great things. But if they don’t I have to be OK with that, too. God it’s hard being a parent, lol.

All this rambling over a slight lazy eye, but this is where my brain goes. I just have to remember that IF there’s a chance Eli can inherit my disorders, then there’s also a chance he will inherit my resilience and grit, too.

After all, he is my mini me.

At My Worst

The thing I hate the most about depression is that I can be feeling so good about myself and then — bam — something triggers me or I get into an argument with my husband or best friend. It could be something small, but it can throw me into a downward spiral of despair and pain.

That’s what happened tonight. I was reflecting on my day and how good it was. I made progress with my intuitive eating program (I didn’t overeat at all). I started to put more work into my blog, which excites and drives me.

Then it hit — self doubt, self loathing and despair after an argument with a loved one. All of these things were lurking in the shadows of my obstinate brain, and it didn’t take much to pull them out of hiding. It scared me. I began having intrusive thoughts that I should kill myself* and that my family didn’t need me. I tried to sort through my thoughts, desperately trying to determine which were true and which were lies. Normally, I don’t entertain my intrusive thoughts; as soon as they enter my head I stop the thought and release it, thinking of something happier. But I didn’t have the strength to stop them this time. It was a barrage of darkness and sadness. And I’ll just stop there, because this is making me sad.

All the progress that I had made during the day was gone, so it seemed. I got ice cream and binged on a couple servings, even though I didn’t really want it.

I didn’t have much time to wallow after that because both of my kids came into the room claiming they couldn’t sleep. It was several more hours of coaxing them and threatening before they finally went down. I felt depleted and frustrated.

The argument I had was inconsequential, forgotten by morning. But what stayed with me was the idea that this — me and my mental health — is probably as good as it’s going to get. I don’t mean that like I’m giving up and in to depression — I mean that I don’t know if I’ll ever feel better than I do right now. Every day, I hustle to stay on top of my depression. I take my meds, I got to weekly therapy appointments, I do ECT treatments, I avoid sleeping during the day, I stay busy with the kids, writing, hobbies, etc. And there is always room for improvement, but I think I need to be OK with the fact that this may be as good as it gets.

It’s not so bad. I’ll probably always live with these demons, but what I need more than to accept that this is my fate and life is that everybody else accepts it, too. That they love and support me at my worst, which is kind of scary sometimes. But in the same breath, it’s taught me to be grateful for all the good in my life and happy moments. And there are many.

It’s hard for me to talk about the dark or bad side of my depression (is there a good side, lol), because it’s hard for people who don’t suffer with a mental disorder to understand. It’s unknown and scary to them. But if you have a loved one who does suffer, love and accept them at their worst. And let them know that you do.

It makes this “journey” a lot easier.

*Please note that I am not in crisis or suicidal. Intrusive thoughts are just thoughts — not desire. I am safe.

“Wow, you’re taking too many medications!”

One day I went to urgent care for an intractable migraine that just wouldn’t let up. Sometimes it can be tricky to treat them because I can’t have NSAIDS (due to gastric sleeve and taking Lithium). I was going over the meds I take and the nurse said, “Wow, you are on too much medication.”

Immediately my body went hot, I started to sweat and tears came to my eyes. I waiting until he left the room and then I cried. It was bad enough I had a severe migraine, I didn’t need to hear that. There was so much judgement there. And I went to one of the best psychiatric hospitals in the country, so I was confident that I was taking the right amount of meds. When the doctor came in later I was still crying but managed to pull it together to tell him that it was inappropriate for that nurse to say something about how many meds I was on. That I felt attacked because I am on a number of psychiatric drugs. In between tears and hiccups, I continued. I told him that judgement just adds to the stigma of depression and keeps people from seeking treatment because of it. 

The doctor assured me that’s not what he meant. That the nurse was not being judgmental, blah blah blah. But the damage had been done. How is there no judgement when a man says, “Wow, you’re on too much medication.” What was the point in that comment? How is that helpful?

I wanted to leave, but I needed pain relief badly. As soon as the meds they gave me for the migraine started to work, I told them I was better (which I sort of was) and left. 

I was embarrassed that I cried and made a big deal out of things. And the doctor, of course, told that man that I was upset. He did apologize but I just didn’t feel better about it. 

Looking back, I can’t believe I was embarrassed, because the truth is that I NEED those meds to fight depression. They help me function, be productive and help me be a better wife, mom and friend. Those medications (along with ECT and therapy) changed and saved my life. So fuck that guy. 

I’m proud that I sought help for my depression and that I take meds. And because I’m proud, I’m going to list my meds with no fear or shame. 

Synthroid- hypothyroidism
Rexulti – antipsychotic 
Lithium – mood stabilizer 
Nortriptyline- antidepressant 
Emgality – preventative med for migraines 
Trazodone – helps with sleep
Gabapentin – anti-anxiety 
Imitrex – abortive migraine med

I hope that none of you ever faces that kind of judgement and shame. There is absolutely no shame in seeking help to fight such a debilitating illness. One that steals your joy, makes you so fatigued you can’t get out of bed and one that causes so much mental anguish that sometimes you feel you’d rather die. 

Not a damn thing wrong with that. 

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and enjoy your family. I’m going to because my meds help me to do so. 

Stay in the light, friends. 

Painting Memories

We just moved into our dream house about a week and a half ago, a year after the contractor said it would be ready. We started packing more than a year ago, so honestly I had forgotten the contents of many, many boxes.

Once we started opening boxes in our new home, I found a box of ceramic figures our family painted at the mall. There was this cute store where you could pick out a figurine then paint it, and the kids loved it. We would have to go to that store every time we went to the mall, which was a lot.

I loved going myself, too. Painting the little figurines was calming and it was a great way to spend time as a family outside the house. Last year, when we started packing some non-essential items, my housekeeper started to pack those and I had forgotten just how many we had. I opened box after box after box of ceramics, colorfully and messily painted by my kids (and a few David and I had done). It made me smile, and I was quick to include them as decor in my sunroom. My husband didn’t want them in the Great Room (he’s more formal than I), so I placed a few here and there, just as a reminder of my kids’ whimsy.

I’m so glad I did, because I recently learned that the store, Paint It, had closed. Another victim of COVID-19. When I found out, I was crushed — I’d never see my kids concentrating so hard, with their tongues stuck out, painting a princess or some type of vehicle. Another place could open up, sure, but I’ve so missed seeing them channel their artistic ability and proudly give it to me, a cherished token.

So many things have changed because of the virus, and I’m so mad that it has affected my kids’ childhood so much. I know I shouldn’t worry — kids are far more resilient than adults — but I do worry and fret over the changes and obstacles we’ve faced this year. The closing of that beloved store is just a reminder that we’re still in the thick of it, and there will be long term affects of this pandemic. We’ve lost so many people and so much time with family and friends — when does it end?

It may sound silly to be waxing poetic about some ceramic figures, but they were a part of my children’s childhood. We weren’t just painting figurines, we were painting memories, and I will forever have a place for them in my home.

A Great Miracle Happened There

So tonight is the sixth night of Hanukkah, and because my family is Jewish, I feel the need to talk about miracles. That’s what Hanukkah is all about, celebrating miracles, and I have a lot to celebrate. They may not seem like grand miracles to others, but it doesn’t really matter what other people think, right?

First, and most important, is that my family has stayed healthy and safe this year, which I’m so grateful for. 

It’s also a great feat that I haven’t had a “breakdown.” I’ve stayed strong this year, despite the pitfalls and obstacles this dreadful year has created. It wasn’t easy for me — or anyone — to have two young kids at home for three months. It was really hard not going to therapy for awhile. Hell, it’s been hard for me not to go anywhere at all. I know that I’m not alone in this;  every one of my nerves has been frayed. Every limitation has been reached, and I’ll be honest, I have a lot of limitations. I have to rest more, take breaks. I have to practice self care every day and get a lot of sleep. I have to verbalize when I’m struggling, so I can get the help I need. I have fought my depression and I’ve fought suicidal thoughts. I fight my own brain on a daily basis. It’s exhausting and my depression is relentless. 

I have to constantly monitor it so I can prevent a depressive episode. It’s annoying and even though I know what to do to make myself feel better, my brain tells me not to take care of myself. 

It’s also hard when you have to prioritize your health over others, especially your children. As a mom you want to make sure your kids have everything they need and I don’t mean this in a bad way, but they suck the life out of you. So much of me goes to them and there’s not much left for me. 

It’s a balancing act and it’s tricky as hell. It’s one that I haven’t mastered, even six years in as a mom. 

I’ve lost my cool and expelled many a curse word. But I’ve survived. My children have survived. I haven’t done much else this year but survive and that’s OK. Yes, I’ve gained 20 pounds and I probably have gray hairs sprouting — also OK. Obviously, I’m utilizing some not-so-helpful coping skills but damn, I’m coping and that’s what counts. In my book, anyway.

So, surviving is my miracle. Avoiding a depressive episode is my miracle. Keeping my children and husband happy and healthy is my miracle. 

As I light the Hanukkah candles tonight I will remember my miracles, God’s miracles. 

There is great divinity in finding light when it is dark. 

Happy Hanukkah, my friends. 

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

Me getting ready for family pictures.

This past week I have done nothing but unpack boxes in the new house. We’ve gotten a lot accomplished for having just been here a week. And I truly love it. Everything in this house makes me happy, and I’m so glad we decided to build.

The kids are getting more used to their new rooms and they’re sleeping through the night again, without much interruption.

I still have some work to do on the playroom, but for the most part, everything’s done. My sun room is the most beautiful room in the house — it’s where I’ll do all my writing and reading. We had a photographer here earlier doing our annual family photos and she took some of me in the sun room because she loved it so much. I can’t wait to get those pictures back.

There’s not much else to tell. I did get some bad news this weekend, but all I can do is take it in stride and keep going. If I think too much about it, I just get sad. But oh well, there are good things to concentrate on.

I hope y’all have a wonderful week. Stay in the light!

Same Shit, Different Day

I watch the same TV shows over and over.

I listen to music from 30 years ago.

I eat the same things every week, without much deviation.

And that’s OK with me. Others, I know, need variation and to experience new things, but new things just throw me for a loop. I blame my oppressive anxiety — it’s just so comforting rewatching my favorite shows rereading my favorite books. There are no surprises lurking, waiting to send me into a panic attack or obsessive thinking. I actually hate surprises, which drives my husband crazy because he loves trying to surprise me.

But I love order, safety and comfort. It’s not boring to me. It’s home. It’s away to control my intrusive and obsessive thoughts. It’s emotional and mental control, and again, I’m OK with that.

Last weekend we moved into our new house. Don’t get me wrong — I was looking forward to it, but I soon discovered that everything was different. I didn’t know how to work the kids’ bathtub nozzles (they had two different ones) and I couldn’t figure out which light switches worked what. I think that’s normal, but it was especially frustrating for me.

It’s like that with almost every new experience, especially meeting new people. I definitely hate that, but experiencing new things are essential to live, lol. And I must do them, even if I don’t like it. I try and remember that when my children are confronted with new things — it sucks, but they have to do it. Our survival depends on it.

As much as I love my routine and structure, there’s something to be said for trying a new meal (and liking it!), reading a new book and watching a new movie. That’s how things become your favorite, but you have to try.

I’ll continue to listen to music from 30 years ago — I have a new speaker system on which to play it. I’ll likely be watching Friends when I get some alone time. And don’t think I won’t be rereading my favorite books: Summer Sisters, She’s Come Undone and The Red Tent.

And that’s OK, because I’ll be trying new things, too. It’s all a fine balance.

Stay in the light.

Five Lessons Depression Has Taught Me

I’ve been battling major depression and anxiety for decades now. Only recently (the past two years or so) have I talked about it with my family and friends. Creating my blog was a huge step in accepting my fate that I’ll be dealing with this for a lifetime and saying, “Screw you!” to the stigma that surrounds mental disorders.

It hasn’t been easy, especially talking about my suicidal ideation that I still struggle with today. But I have learned a lot.

Here are some lessons having major depression, anxiety and a personality disorder have taught me:

  1. Being forthcoming about my illness makes some people uncomfortable – I don’t really understand this fully, but I make people feel uncomfortable when I talk about depression, anxiety, etc. so openly. This is especially true if I talk about suicide, which I can kind of understand…maybe. But I’ve been asked more than once if I could write about something other than suicide. The problem with that is that suicide is shrouded in stigma and that’s why people don’t talk about it to begin with. By shining light on the subject, it helps people come forward when they’re having suicidal thoughts and it could save lives. Literally. And it’s no different with depression and other mental disorders — the more we normalize it, the more people will feel like they can seek help. There’s no need to struggle in silence. It can do some real damage if you do.
  2. I’m stronger than I think – I want to acknowledge that I have an incredibly strong support system, and I’m very grateful for that. But when you’re in the midst of a depressive episode and suicidal, it feels like it’s only you. In my case, I fight with my brain, trying to determine if it’s lying to me, because it often does. It tells me I’m useless, I should die, nobody loves me, etc. And when it’s your own brain saying these things, how do you not believe it? But even in my darkest moments, I somehow find a reserve of strength. I do stand up to those ugly thoughts and prove them wrong. I do let light in. I fight, tooth and nail.
  3. Humility – I’m not going to lie, depression humbles you. It can make you incapable of taking care of yourself, and sometimes it’s just embarrassing. For me, it’s hard to brush my teeth and take a shower. I’ve gone at least a week without doing those seemingly easy chores. And it’s hard to not be able to do the simplest of personal hygiene chores. I mean, I can’t stay indoors all day, everyday. I have to take the kids to school and run errands. So, when I am able to shower and brush my teeth, I appreciate it to the fullest.
  4. You are your best advocate – Nobody can fight for you the way you can, meaning you know what your needs are and what’s best, even if your illness debilitates you. Stand up for yourself, express your needs clearly to doctors/therapists and always ask questions. Make sure you find a doctor who listens. Feel validated in your emotions. You’ve go this.
  5. Compassion – Dealing with depression definitely has helped me be more compassionate toward others, because I truly know what suffering is, whether it’s physical or mental. If you’re struggling with depression, you see first hand that it’s like any other disease — you can’t control it and there’s no cure. The problem is that depression is an invisible disease and others won’t always understand. But you will. Remember to be compassionate to others and to yourself.

If you have any lessons you’ve learned from depression, drop them in the comments. And as always, stay in the light.

This is the last blog I’ll write before Thanksgiving. I hope you all have a great holiday and take care.