Beautiful girl, you can do hard things

My 5-year-old daughter is sensitive and she can be anxious – she’s her mother’s daughter, for sure. When she does get anxious I try to calm her down with deep breathing and I started repeating one mantra over and over – you can do hard things. Does it help her? Maybe but it definitely helps me.

It’s so simple but it hits me deep in my core. My depression (and anxiety) just crushes me, the weight of it feels so heavy that I can’t move. But the thing is, I can do hard things.

In the past five years I’ve given birth to two kids who are 23 months apart. I’ve battled postpartum depression. I went to a mental hospital for six weeks. I started ECT therapy and have had more than 20 treatments – that’s 20 times under anesthesia and 20+ seizures. I have been suicidal many times but I’ve clawed my way back to me. I’m proudly scrappy.

I will have depression forever, and I’m sure there will be dark days ahead but I can do hard things. That’s the mindset and philosophy I want to pass down to Isla (and Eli).

I try my best to hide my depressed self from the kids but I know it seeps through at times. I just hope they remember how strong I am and how much I love them. I hope they never really know how sad I can be. I want them to know I have a big heart and big emotions, and that’s ok. That they are cut from the same cloth, that they can tap into their grit and resolve.

It’s easy to give in to depression, to the despair and apathy that accompanies it. What’s not easy is to do it in front of your kids. They’re always there, watching and imitating. While it’s scary to think I could have another depressive episode, I know I can get through it. I can fight. I can overcome.

I can do hard things. And so can you.

One-year Anniversary

A year ago this month I went to the Menninger Clinic for inpatient psychiatric care for six long weeks. The months leading up to my trip to Houston weren’t good ones. I was emotional, suicidal and so damn sad. I had been labeled with treatment resistant depression, thus none of my meds were working. I also had tried TMS and ketamine infusion treatments but it didn’t lighten my load at all.

I was scared. Mostly because I feared I wouldn’t be around to watch my kids grow up. My husband, therapist and psychiatrist all agreed Menninger was the next step. After going over my history, meds and different treatments, I was told I was a prime candidate for ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). It took weeks for me to wean off all my meds – an antidepressant, antipsychotic, benzodiazepines, anti seizure meds and Ambien.

While I was weaning off my meds, I underwent psychiatric testing and went to classes about how to deal with mental illness. I also had to go to the classes on addiction because I wasn’t great at taking the prescribed benzodiazepine the way I was supposed to, to put it mildly. When we weren’t taking classes, we were required to do therapy and meet with psychiatrists. The classes – and the teachers – were all very helpful. My diagnoses are Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Dysthymia and Avoidant Personality Disorder.

I became close with a couple of patients who were in the same boat asI was. I still talk to them; sometimes it seems like they’re the only ones who understand what I went through since they were right there with me.

The facility was nice. It should be for how expensive it was, but hey, it did save my life. What stuck with me is that there were not rods to hang your clothes on, no drawers and no shower curtain rod – nothing a patient could try to hang himself from. At night we could shut our doors but the staff did checks every 15 minutes. The whole night. Every door leading outside was locked so patients couldn’t leave. We couldn’t have our phones but they offered cell phones for patients to use. We also had access to computers where all social media sites were blocked. It was a hard adjustment but it kind of made me feel safe, cocooned really. The girls had one wing, boys another and we all shared one common area with couches and a TV. On the weekends, we did movie nights and ordered food from outside the facility. Although it was scary and heart wrenching to be away from my family, I felt supported by the friends I made and never felt alone, despite my depression and anxiety.

When it was time to start ECT I don’t remember being scared, although it sounds scary to me now. I had three treatments a week for three weeks before starting a maintenance phase. At first, I got awful headaches after each treatment but those eventually subsided. By far, the worst side effect of the ECTs is the memory loss. Usually, it only affects patients around the time of treatment, meaning you might forget things that happened the day of treatment. But lucky me, my memory loss goes back years. I’ve forgotten people’s names, and sometimes, entire people. I still can’t remember how I met the majority of my Facebook friends. My short term memory has taken a hit, too. I can’t figure out how and what my brain is actually going to remember.

But as bad as memory loss sucks, the ECTs saved my life. And for that, I’m grateful. I relish in spending time with my kids and watching them grow. David and I enjoy each other more now, too. My mental illness takes a toll on him and I’m very thankful for his patience, love and support.

I won’t lie – there have been dark days in the past year and it hasn’t always been easy. My brain is not reliable and I have to remember during anxiety attacks or depressive episodes that it lies. It tells me I’m not good enough, that I should want to die, that there’s no way out. I ride out the pain best I can and turn to my support system – my doctor, therapist, best friends, parents and then to more ECT treatments. It’s not a perfect system but here I am.

I somehow learned when I was young that having mental illness made you weak, but after my experience I know that’s not true. It couldn’t be further than the truth but the stigma surrounding depression is certainly real. I could have easily overdosed on my meds or died any other way by suicide, but it was strength that saved me and what keeps me going now. I’ve been battling my brain for a long time – decades even – and I know I have more to go but I’m proud of the work I’ve done.

My brain has betrayed me (many times) but my dear, hardworking heart never will. Thank you to all who have supported me.

If you are suffering from depression and need help, the National Alliance on Mental Illness visit http://www.nami.org

If you are suicidal, please call the Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Fragile Psyche

Edit: This post was originally slated to run Sunday, April 19.

I am desperately missing my life of mediocrity. I realize that everybody’s lives have been turned upside down but I’m wading through some uncomfortable feelings that are starting to challenge my mental wellness.

I want to preface this post by saying it’s Sunday, and I always get the “Sunday Night Blues,” but it’s even worse knowing my kids will be spending all their waking hours with me and I’ll have little to no break.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or whiny; I know there are lots of families who can’t stay safely at home, away from the virus, but it’s just so trying right now. I needed a lot of mental breaks before all this chaos and that was with the kids being at school from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. I was able to cope (for the most part) because I had time to decompress. But now looking at the week ahead the every day mundane tasks I have to complete in order for all of us to function seems insurmountable.

These uncomfortable emotions also are challenging my treatment plan — the plan I have outlined that helps me stay on track mentally. Instead of using my healthy coping skills, I want to turn to my bad habits, which caused my breakdown (last summer) in the first place. This includes: overeating, over spending, not sticking to a sleep schedule and wanting to abuse my meds (which is hard because I don’t have anything to abuse anymore).

I don’t know why I would want to fall back on these negative behaviors, especially when I’ve worked so hard to get where I am. I guess sometimes it feels good to be “bad” but the thing is, I’ve seen the endgame to that. I know where it leads you.

I know it’s ok not to feel ok right now, so that’s what I’m repeating to myself. Tomorrow’s a new day and I plan on reviewing my Self Care 101 list, which is abbreviated here:

  • Get good sleep
  • Know and accept limits
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Decompress throughout the day
  • Feed spiritual sel
  • Remember to love myself

If I just go back to the basics I know my fragile psyche will recover. And getting all this out has actually helped, too.

Ultimately, I need to make good decisions and take each day hour by hour. That’s what I need to do to survive right now.

If you have some self-care tips you’d like to share, drop them in the comments. Thanks for reading. Stay in the light.

My Father

The other day I blogged about my mom – how she was cut from a different cloth and how she was an extraordinary woman. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my dad, as well. He too is cut from that same cloth – he works hard and has created two businesses, both successful. He is smart, though he is a quiet man until he gets around his family, then he’s silly and goofy.

One of my favorite memories is him telling me (fictional) stories about him and his brother going to Africa on safari. I also enjoyed him telling me stories about his pet monkey, Peanuts – which turned out to be true. Now my kids love to hear about Peanuts on the roof running from my dad.

As you may know, I’m an overly emotional person and because my father is not we would bump heads during my adolescence. But no matter what, he took care of me in so many ways. He (and my mom) paid for my college, enabling me to become a first-generation college graduate. He helped me pay for apartments after college because of course I didn’t pick a major that was accompanied by a big pay day.

He’s really done too much for me to innumerate. And I’ll always be grateful. I’m also grateful for how he’s shown me to be a good person. If there’s one thing he knows how to do, it’s take care of his family. I’ll never forget how he took care of my mom’s mom – giving her grocery money, helping her pay bills among other things. The goodheartedness of my dad for taking such good care of his mother-in-law, my beloved Mema, overwhelms me and makes me respect him even more.

He may joke and give me a hard time sometimes, but there is no doubt in my mind that man loves me, and now loves the family I’ve made.

I hope he’s proud of me, like I am of him, and knows how much I love him because it’s a lot.

But my favorite thing about my dad? He calls me every night at 9 p.m., which some people have told me was weird, but I love it. Even if we only speak for a few minutes, there’s actually more being said.

Disorderly Personality

In 2019 I entered an inpatient program at the Menninger Clinic in Houston. I was having some issues to say the least, including suicidal ideation, severe depression and I was mis-using some of my medication. I guess the better word would be abusing.

Going into the program I had already been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). After six weeks of intensive testing, therapy and meetings with doctors, I was able to return home, but I had a new diagnosis to my already growing list – Avoidant Personality Disorder. I had never heard of it and I didn’t know anyone else with a personality disorder so I was feeling like a “legit” crazy person, if there ever was such a thing.

I’d spent years being diagnosed with depression, dysthemia, an anxiety disorder and I was even misdiagnosed as Bipolar II. I knew next to nothing about Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD) but I soon learned. It’s a disorder characterized by social discomfort and avoidance of interpersonal contact. According to the Mayo Clinic, someone who has AVPD avoids intimate and social contact with others.

When I read this, I thought, “Wow, this is me.” I think it’s apparent to those who know me well know I’m no extrovert. And while I do have friends, it is rare for me to be around a lot of people and not at all uncommon for me to cancel plans (usually due to anxiety). But as I continued reading, something struck a nerve. My paperwork stated that people with this condition may be extremely shy, fear ridicule and be overly concerned with looking foolish. That they – I – could have an inferiority complex. Yes, I’m sensitive and don’t respond to rejection well but isn’t that everybody?

Apparently not.

As I continued learning, I read that these folks have low self esteem and here’s the kicker – it’s common for people to avoid work, social and school activities for fear of rejection. I was constantly missing school and later work. And it always caused problems.

According to WebMD, a person with Avoidant Personality Disorder may be afraid to speak up for fear of saying the wrong thing, blushing, stammering or otherwise getting embarrassed. That they may also spend a great deal of time anxiously studying those around for signs of approval or rejection.

I know my diagnosis doesn’t define me, so I try not to get upset when I revisit my paperwork. But sometimes I do get upset and that’s ok. Yes, I have “mental problems” but who doesn’t?

But it is important to me not to be “extremely shy” and so scared of rejection. It’s more important to me because my children are watching me, and I would hate for either of them to be painfully shy, to miss out on things only to create a world of isolation and loneliness.

So, I’m (trying) to step up. Kids’ birthday parties? We’re there. Encouraging my children to say hi to others, even adults? Yes. Teaching them to be confident and strong? We’re working on that, too.

No parent wants their children to repeat their mistakes but I hope both my children pick up on some of my attributes that weren’t in my Menninger paperwork – my empathy, resilience, creativity and generosity (that I already see blossoming in my oldest).

Again, my diagnosis does not define me and how I live my life. If anything, it helps me live life more fully and with having more empathy. And that’s ok with me.

When the Darkness Comes

I can feel it coming. My body feels weighted down, I’m irritable and even more sensitive, which is saying a lot. It’s sort of like PMS but it’s more than being moody and there’s no relief in a few days. Sometimes I just want to die.

I can remind myself how lucky and privileged I am, who I need to live for but the pain is deep and distorts everything I know to be true. It’s a scary feeling and I hate feeling out of control. Despite having a safety plan (a plan of action for when or if you’re suicidal), I don’t feel safe. There have been times I have called the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and tried to use the chat feature but there were more than 70 people also waiting for help and support. I could have called the hotline but I resigned myself to sleep.

Things looked better in the morning but it was still creepily dark in my head. I didn’t want to get out of bed but had to take the kids to school. I couldn’t shower. I couldn’t brush my teeth. I forced myself to take my pills and retreated to the comfort of my bed.

After a couple of (weepy) days, I did feel the fog lift but it took awhile to return to “normal.” That’s the scary part of depression – one of them, anyway. You can do everything right – take your pills, see your doctors, see your therapist, put real pants on and shower but depression will find you.

So will anxiety. My depression and anxiety go hand and hand. Mine makes me obsess about the weirdest things – things that have happened years ago, hypothetical tragedies that could happen to friends/family, bad things happening. Sometimes there are no thoughts behind it. It’s just there, a heavy weight on my chest making it hard to breathe.

Since going to the Menninger Clinic these symptoms have gotten better but not all together gone. When I can muster the strength to combat my overwhelming sadness and panic, there are things I can do to help.

  • I take my anxiety pills
  • I get under my weighted blanket
  • I listen to guided mediations or favorite music
  • Write

But if you’re in a scary situation that you can’t get control of, please call the National Suicidal Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or call your city/county’s mental health resources to see what’s available to you. And you can always call your primary physician. There is help out there and I know sometimes you don’t feel you need help but that’s just the depression talking. People care.

I’d you’d like to list your positive coping skills, please feel free to in the comments.

Stay in the light, my friends.

 

Safe Haven

As soon as the coronavirus started rapidly spreading, I started to panic. I panicked even more when, while the kids and I were at my mom’s house for Spring Break, the schools across the state starting closing. When lines wrapped around grocery stores. When my husband started to worry about business. What really bothered me the most is that I had to be with the kids at home 24/7 with virtually no breaks. I wasn’t trying to be selfish but I was worried about my fickle mental health. I tried to put a brave face on but no matter how hard I tried, the uncertainty and chaos had already sneaked inside their little lives.

The first things I noticed were changes in Eli. Usually, when I put him to bed I could sing him a song, tell him goodnight and he’d be out by 6:30 pm. When we returned to our home, Eli was afraid of the dark and wouldn’t go to bed without me. Then he started waking during the night. Now he’s up around 5:30 am, despite having an alarm clock that lets him know when he can get out of bed.

And that’s not all. Eli has started to hit – he’ll hit his sister, me and even his dad. One time he hit me so hard he knocked my glasses off and I spanked him. I cried so hard after that. We don’t even believe in spanking but I was at a loss. It was after that I started thinking – this virus has wreaked havoc on all our lives. It’s stressful no matter who you are or what you do. I know how stressful and anxiety-inducing it is for me but I hadn’t really thought about how this situation affects our children.

These sweet children are experiencing something that not even parents have been through. They’re out of routine. They miss their teachers and friends. Older ones are worried about high school graduation and and lamenting the fact they likely won’t return to their school. Some kids are experiencing death of their loved ones without ever having said goodbye. It’s depressing to think about but it is the reality of many. These are dark times.

No matter how old your children are, they’re still kids (or young adults). We all have to dig deep and find the resolve to create a safe place – to be their safe place. I’m not saying never share what’s going on in the world with them but if they do act out, and I’m guessing many will, we have to let them fall apart and put them back together again.

As a mom with depression who has “vacationed” at a psychiatric facility, I’ve seen very dark times. I’ve been scared. But nothing scares me more than thinking my children could get lost in the “dark” – the uncertainty and depressing road the weary world is traveling right now. So, of course I’ll stick to my mental wellness plan and I’ll take care of myself. Because I have to. I will protect my tender-hearted babies from the dark until my dying days.