This Time, It’s Different

“Cortney, do you think this thing I have with Alice is because…well…I haven’t had any PPD, have I?”

“You are different with Alice, yes. And I think a lot of it probably is because you haven’t had PPD this time. I think you might be right.”

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Every second of the past almost eight months has not been glorious, but not once did I want to throw my baby off our back deck. Not once did I feel like driving my car into a tree. Not once did I consider that my children’s and my husband’s lives might be better if I wasn’t in it.

Not once.

Do you know what that means? It means I experienced being a new mom without “mah crazy” seeping in. I was REGULAR.

I loved my boys when they were babies. Eddie was difficult, but I loved him. Charlie was easy, and I loved him.

My love is not different, but I am different.

I’m present.

There is no cloud or fog or walls.

There is no rage–ok, there is rage. But it’s different. It’s normal, Mom Anger, not anxiety-triggered panic-attack rage. No rage that feels like the only way out is to hurt myself before I hurt someone else.

Not at all.

The first week home with Alice I took care of her. Cortney was home with me, making sure I took my meds, lifting things that needed to be lifted. But I got up with her. I fed her. I napped with her.

I mothered her from the start.

I can’t say that about my boys. Sure I was better with Charlie, but now with my 20/20 hind sight, I know that I have been my best with Alice.

The monster is not lurking behind a corner or in my closet. In fact, the monster is not in this house. Not this time.

Of course I am not naive enough to think it’s gone for good. I have too much experience with my own brain for that. I know I need to stay the course with my depression meds and my talk therapy. I know I need to get enough sleep and read books and write in my journal. I know I need to drink hot tea and find comfort. I know that letting the crazy of life overwhelm me without letting Cortney know will mean a slide back into the hole with the monster.

After Charlie was born, I watched for it. I was vigilant. I knew it was coming, but it took longer than I thought and I let my self-care slip. The monster burst in one summer afternoon.

This time, I was again prepared. But I stayed the course and it’s paying off. Right now, as I type this, Alice is snoozing on the floor next to me. It’s her new thing. After her dinner bottle, she plays until she tires herself out and she passes out with her blankie on the floor where she was just grabbing her feet and giggling. Then she wakes for a quick bottle and we put her to bed.

She is my last baby, and I am so thankful that I am taking care of my mind so that I can be here for it. So I can enjoy each snuggle and toothy grin.

*************

Yesterday was the release date for the anthology I am a part of, Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum ExperienceI am incredibly proud to be part of this project in part because this is the book I wish was available when I was first struggling six years ago.

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This book has the potential to help so many moms. Not only is it 35 voices telling those moms they are not alone, but it offers hope. It shines a light down the dark tunnel that is postpartum mood disorders.

Click here for ordering info.

And thank you for supporting me all these years as I struggle to put words to what I have experienced.

Until it Sleeps

There is a beast that lives inside my brain.

It tells me untruths about my worthlessness and my capabilities. It threatens my children and my husband’s lives. It shows me pictures that are false so that I will believe that I am harmful.

The beast wants me to believe that I am the monster, and that it–the beast–holds the logical answer to keeping my family safe. It wants me gone.

It tears me down and beats me into submission until I agree that I am dirt and I claw my way to bed and stay there.

The beast is tricky. One minute it allows me fun with a friend, but later distorts the images when it replays it in my mind. It causes me to second guess every comment and reaction. The beast delights in my paranoia. It finds joy in creating awkward distance between me and others.

When the beast sleeps, all is well. I can laugh and imagine and create. I can be the me I know. The me my husband fell in love with.

But when it awakes, it physically hurts. First my head and back begin to ache. Then long, dark fingers wrap around the back of my eyes and everything gets tinted black. And once it starts, I can’t get away until the beast decides to retreat and go back to sleep.

The beast grows bigger the less sleep I get, the less I take care of myself, the less I ask for and accept help. Yet at the same time, the beast hisses in my ear that I do not deserve any of these things.

And I believe him.

Where do I take this pain of mine?
I run, but it stays right by my side
So tear me open, pour me out
There’s things inside that scream and shout
And the pain still hates me

So hold me until it sleeps.*

I live with depression and anxiety every day. Even when it seems to not be there, it’s there. It’s been five years since I was officially diagnosed with postpartum mood disorders–disorders that have grown and morphed with each pregnancy.

It’s been five years since Cortney gently suggested I get help and I agreed.

Five years since the work of healing and learning to battle the beast began.

And I am not alone.

There are so many women out there who suffer in silence and do not get the help they need or deserve. This is why I am so honored to be a contributor in an anthology dedicated to those moms titled Mothering Through the Darkness available November 2015.

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The essay that I contributed is one of my most raw and honest yet describing my very first experience with postpartum depression after Eddie was born. In it, I finally come completely clean about the rage and hate and paranoia that filled my head. But I also talk about getting help.

Depression is a beast, but it’s not unmanageable. It is possible to be stronger than the beast.

*************

*lyrics from “Until It Sleeps” by Metallica 

Sometimes…

Sometimes…

I feel like I am failing.

I don’t think I have enough patience to be a mother.

I wonder why I thought I could have another baby.

Sometimes…

I don’t think I have enough patience to be a junior high school teacher.

I think I have to choose between being a nice teacher or the crabby teacher because being “fun” means kids can’t refocus.

I think about quitting.

Sometimes…

I feel like a let down as a wife.

I am painfully aware of how much work it is to love me.

I cry when he can’t hear me.

Sometimes…

I wonder why people stay my friend.

I have to admit I wouldn’t be friends with me.

I step outside myself and don’t like what I see.

Sometimes…

I laugh so hard at something my  boys do, I forget all the other challenges of the day.

I see in his eyes that wants no one else but me.

I think I can change the world one student at a time.

Sometimes I forget that my life is blessed because I get blinded by my self-doubts.

*************

sometimes i know, sometimes i rise
sometimes i fall, sometimes i don’t
sometimes i cringe, sometimes i live
sometimes i walk, sometimes i kneel
sometimes i speak of nothing at all
sometimes i reach to myself, dear god
~Sometimes by Pearl Jam

I Am Not Alone and Neither Are You

At the end of my last therapy appointment, my therapist of almost three years said to me, “so do you know Katherine Stone? I thought of you when I saw that she is behind the blog Postpartum Progress. She was the MC of the conference on PMDs that I attended last week.”

I smiled. Big.

“I do know Katherine Stone. As in I know her personally.”

“I thought there was a good chance of that,” she said. “She seems so inspiring.”

I thought about that word “inspiring” as I drove home. I also thought about when I first “met” Katherine. I was a hot damn mess when I was directed to Postpartum Progress by some people on twitter who read my very first post admitting that after nine months of suffering, I got sought help.

I combed through the entire site. I found stories and resources. I found help.

I think I officially met Katherine via twitter. When I was pregnant with Charlie and scared of a relapse of PPD, she was there assuring me. She sent me names of local people I could call. She checked in on me after Charlie was born and I went silent on social media. When things weren’t fine, she was there.

But it wasn’t just for me. She is there for every other woman struggling.

I met her five years ago when Postpartum Progress was much smaller and it’s reach confined to mostly women I “knew” via social media and PPD groups.  Now, five years later, it’s expanded to something so much larger than I can even wrap my mind around.

Katherine did that.

She is now known nation-wide and has been on CNN and other national news outlets.

And yet, she is still Katherine. She is still real and easy to approach and hilarious and passionate.  In fact, I think she is more passionate now than she was five years ago…if that is even possible.

She’s so big my own therapist is asking me if I’ve heard of her.

I admit that sometimes I figure she is so busy with all her amazing work, she probably doesn’t think much about me or remember me, but then she makes a funny comment on Facebook or tweets me and I think, “She’s still Katherine.”

I have given her name and website as a resource to moms so many times over the years, and I can still say “Here is my friend, Katherine’s information,” when I give it. Because she is not just a bigger than life public figure fighting for mom’s rights and health, she is my friend.

And I’m so proud of her. Proud to know her. Proud to have been a part of something that is so much larger than I am.

The letter Katherine wrote me in the collection of letters Miranda (Finding Walden) sent me after I had Charlie

The letter Katherine wrote me in the collection of letters Miranda (Finding Walden) sent me after I had Charlie

She helped me realize I am not alone, nor that I have to feel so isolated. I have become a vocal advocate not just for postpartum mood disorders, but for mental health in general.

I suffer from depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD and I am a great mom, a loving wife, and a successful teacher and writer. I laugh and smile and have wonderful friends.

I take medication and see a therapist and I love my life.

It’s possible to have a rich, wonderful life and have a mental illness/mood disorder. Katherine helped me realize that.

I am forever grateful to her and so very proud of this milestone of TEN YEARS of Postpartum Progress and kicking stigma ass.

Congratulations on Ten Years, Katherine!

Congratulations on Ten Years, Katherine!

Please visit Postpartum Progress if you or someone you know if struggling.

I’m a Stigma Fighter

I was an overly-dramatic emotional child. We still laugh about the time we were taking a hike while camping and I begged my uncle to carry me. I was probably fourish at the time. When no one would, I threw my head back and moaned, “WHOA IS ME! NOBODY LOVES ME! MY LITTLE LEGGIES ARE GOING TO FALL RIGHT OFF!!!” I did this the entire walk.

I vaguely remember it, but I am reminded of it all the time.

I am quick to react to something if it upsets me. I also worried a lot.

 

Continue reading my story over at Old School/New School Mom in Sarah’s Stigma Fighters series…

Blogging for Mental Health

I felt like I was outside myself, watching what was happening. It was like a dream–a nightmare, really.

I wanted to just stop myself.

But also like in a nightmare, I couldn’t. The rational, sane part of me was frozen, only able to watch in horror as the crazy came out.

I yelled.  A lot.

I was so filled with rage.

Cortney walked very softly around me for months, fearing that one false move would send me off into a blind, white rage from hell.

I bluntly told him he sucked. I told my mom she was unhelpful and ridiculous.

I was a bitch.

My insides would start churning and winding and the only way to release all the pressure was to rage at someone. I wanted to keep my mouth shut, but the more I tried, the worse the rage was.

Cortney didn’t read my mind, so he was constantly berated.

I didn’t know what I wanted, but I expected him to not just know, but do all of these things on an imaginary list that I hadn’t written yet. I would realized I wished the bathroom was a different shade of yellow and somehow I was so SO pissed that he had not anticipated that and painted the bathroom to appease the rage monster inside of me.

I wanted so badly to just be good and normal and happy, but the more I tried, the worse everything fell apart.

I didn’t want anyone to know about my wound-up insides. I wanted to be better, so I thought I could pull the whole “fake it ’til you make it” routine.

But my insides got worse.

I was crying a lot. I couldn’t control myself at all and I was afraid I was going to hurt my husband.

Every time the baby cried, which was often since Eddie had colic, something in me began to boil. I wanted to shake the baby, but I did NOT want to shake the baby.  So instead I lashed out at Cortney.

Until one day I broke down and realized something was broken in me.

That was the start of my healing.

I got help.

If you think you or someone you love may be battling depression or anxiety, let them know they are not alone. They can get better.

For a list or resources for mental health including postpartum mood disorders and other illnesses, see sites such as Your Mind, Your Body, BonBon Break’s List of Resources, and Postpartum Progress.

I'm Blogging for Mental Health.

A Letter to the Depressed

It’s a fragile thing, this life we lead.
If I think too much I can get overwhelmed by the grace
By which we live our lives with death over our shoulders*

*************

I am currently in the process of watching you spiral down. Again.

It’s hard and it sucks and it’s not the first time you have been down this road, but just like every time I hope it’s the last.

Depression sucks.

Depression tricks you into thinking you don’t matter and that nothing you say or do will work to get rid of it anyway. So you try things that make you feel good in the moment, make you forget that your brains sucks at being a brain.

You take risks because, why not? When you’re not risk-taking you feel like garbage, so you may as well try all the things that will make you fee–at least for a little while–like none of the trash in your head matters.

Depression is heaps and heaps of bags of rotting trash leaking all over your brain. Leaking into your thoughts and memories. Tainting every day activities and routines and making them unbearable.

You can’t get through even mundane tasks because it feels like such a heavy burden.

Depression dupes you into thinking that making the same old bad choices will somehow have a different outcome and that things will be better this time.

Instead you barrel towards the pit again, and you are surprised to find that all those things you did to try to hide the rubbish piles in your brain didn’t help…again.

You cycle.

You get just far enough out of the pit to tell yourself that this time will be different.

But you don’t follow through with finding a permanent solution to the trash removal.  You think, because depression tells you so, that you can handle all that refuse on your own because you feel better. You’ll haul it all out by yourself with your new-found energy.

Slowly you’re overwhelmed. You’ve gotten rid of a few of the bits of litter only to find that Depression has piled on a whole new truck load.

You cycle.

Depression tells you to do the things that felt good before.  The ones that put up the curtain, the screen. You can’t see the depression when you do those things…but that doesn’t mean it’s gone.

It’s never gone.

Life is fragile.

But you know that because, well, you just know. Depression even told you a few times that life was worthless. And you believe that.

You want it to go away…you want it all to go away.

But you don’t want to change.

Change is hard. It’s scary. You don’t know what you look like without all this.

What if…what if it’s not better?

But what if it is?

You can’t keep living life in a constant state of “barely” forever.

You can’t keep living life staring at the ground in front of you wishing it would change.

You need to look up–despite what Depression tells you about there being nothing there. There is. Something there, I mean. It’s a light.

But you need to look up to see it.  And probably squint really hard.

Ok so maybe from where you are, with all the garbage bags piling up, you can’t see it. But it’s there.

You can’t see the air, but you know it’s there because you are breathing it, and you are alive.

The light is there too.

You know because you are alive.

You can go to that light. You can be warmed by it’s energy-giving light.

But you have to want to.

You have to want to make a change. You have to decide to go against everything Depression is telling you.

It’s a lot of work. It’s hard. It’s scary.

Change seems way less secure than the dangerous things you’re doing now.

It’s scary to open your mouth and tell those around you, “I need to stop and change because I’m broken, and if I keep this up I will be dead.”

It’s hard to believe you matter, but you do. You are important. The hard work will be worth it.

I know. I’ve done it.

I am doing it.

Every day.

I hope this time you will join me.

We can do hard things…together.

We can claim the light for you too.

light

*lyrics from “Sirens” by Pearl Jam

filling space

I fell asleep on the couch Sunday afternoon after struggling with more GI bug issues. Apparently it’s a county-wide issue. I was blessed with it not once, but twice. Awesome.

Anyway, I fell asleep on the couch Sunday.

I always lie on my side with my legs bent at the knee.

Tucked in that space that my bent legs make, Eddie snuggles himself in and under my blanket to watch a movie quietly.

That is where he always fits, into the space I leave open.

If I am in the chair, he somehow finds his way up there too, even though he has long outgrown being two in that chair. But I can’t kick him out. This chair is where “we” began.

And so he fills any space that is left. His long legs sprawled over my lap, his head finding my shoulder.

When I put him to bed, we read a chapter book–right now it’s Winnie the Pooh. A chapter a night. Sometimes two if he asks really nice because I can’t say no to just one more chapter.

Once the light goes off, and our chatting stops, his breath becomes heavy and regular and he rolls into me, again filling the space.

When I am sitting on the couch, so is he…up against me so close there is no room for space. It’s instinctive to him to fill up any space between us.

When he was an infant, there was a lot of space between us, so much so that I sought help.

That was four years ago.

He was almost a year old.

I spent his whole first year putting distance between us because I was sick. But I didn’t have GI issues. Nope, I had brain issues.

Medication and therapy helped but it was a long road.

Now each time I noticed him right by my side, I smile because he doesn’t remember. He has no recollection of our hard start. What he knows is that his mom is his safe place–his protection from bears in his nightmares, as he says.

What he also doesn’t know is that he is my safe place too.

Every time I look at him I think of how far I have come and how I am so SO lucky to have him as my boy.

noise

There is so much noise lately.

It comes from every direction.

No one told me being an adult is so hard on the senses.

I’ve found myself complaining of headaches and backaches and neck aches a lot lately.

I think it’s from the noise.

Even when I turn everything off, it’s still in my head. So loud.

The noise is loudest when it’s quiet, I find.

During the school day when teenagers are being teenagery and in the evening when a preschooler is being preschoolery and a toddler is being toddlery, the noise isn’t so loud. It’s drowned out by immediacy of life.

But in the quiet of my planner period, my commute, my quiet time lying with Eddie while he falls asleep, my head fills with it.

Noise.

Static.

Yelling and shouting and vying for attention.

Anger and frustration and joy and excitement and overwhelm and worry and pride and anticipation and grief.

Oh the grief.

Memories are loud.

They scream in your heart and make you feel all over again the things you thought were past and gone and not coming back.

The pain, the writhing, the labor for…empty arms, empty heart.

Grief is the loudest of the noise.

Scratching and tearing demanding to be the center and then just sitting there in the middle of it all like dead weight.

Resurfacing to drown me.

The noise is so so loud when you’re an adult.

I want to go back to that warm place of being a child where the noise of the adult world is so far above me, it doesn’t make it to my ears or heart.

That place with dinner waiting on the table, two parents tucking me in, and no note of death or pain or worry in my ear.

I want the safety and silence of childhood back.

Because being an adult is too loud.

It hurts too much.

In honor of Infant Loss and Remembrance Day, I lit my candle for the two I have in heaven (snuggled there next to a picture of their little brother, Eddie) and for my niece, Bella. Who went home too this past week.

In honor of Infant Loss and Remembrance Day, I lit my candle for the two I have in heaven (snuggled there next to a picture of their little brother, Eddie) and for my niece, Bella. Who went home too this past week to be held in the arms of her Papa Steve in Heaven.

***Updated (9:21am 10/16/13)*** I just got word that Arabella Elizabeth Sluiter was delivered at 2:20am this morning weighing 1 lb, 3oz. She will always be loved and remembered.

freeing containment

Yesterday I had my monthly therapy appointment.

Yup, I’m down to monthly.  This is a BIG DEAL for me since for a while I was going weekly. Truthfully there were times when I felt I could go every day.

My therapist has said I could just be “done” until I feel I need it again, but I didn’t feel comfortable with that.  The monthly visits make me feel like there is an accountability for me. It helps me know there is a check-in to make sure I am maintaining and managing my anxiety, depression, and OCD.

In fact, yesterday the first thing Dr. M asked me was “So how has going back to school gone for you?”

I have been seeing Dr. M for about two years now. She is awesome at her job and knows when my yearly meltdowns typically occur.  This is the first time in years that I haven’t had weekly appointments during this time of year to help me manage the big shift in schedule.

And it was fine.

I told Dr. M that it was going great.  And I wasn’t lying or sugar-coating anything.

Yes, I have had a couple slips, but Cortney and I recognized them quickly and we worked to “contain” (that is what Dr. M calls it) my anxiety.

In fact, this fall is busier than ever for me, but I am doing well with it all.  Dr. M says that this is because I have set up a containment strategy for myself.

I know that working three jobs (teaching high school, teaching college, and freelancing) plus taking two classes, PLUS wanting to be a quality parent and wife AND help keep my house from being condemned would have been way too much for me in the past.

But this year, because I really love all of the things I have taken on and I want to be successful, I devised a schedule for myself.  One that I have shared with Cortney and that is printed and on my desk and school and taped into my blog/freelance planner at home.  It looks like this:

KatiesSchedule

To some people this might look like I am putting myself in a box, and I guess I sort of am. I mean, the schedule is shaped like a box.

But for me it’s incredibly freeing.

Because I have so many things I have to work on at any given moment, I can get overwhelmed and shut down and forget how to prioritize. I also have the tendency to prioritize certain things right out of my life like family time or sleep.  This is problematic for my mental health since lack of down time (and sleep) are major triggers for my anxiety and depression.

If I don’t have set times when things get done, I also tend to procrastinate which further exacerbates my anxiety.

I realized a couple weeks ago that in order to feel free, I needed to box myself in.

So I created the above schedule.  Not only does it keep me focused, but it tells me what to do in each “work time” slot. For instance in the “school planning” areas I ONLY do school planning.  No blogging or freelancing.  That is what the evenings are for.

It also helps me to realize that if I am sent a possible freelance assignment, but because of the date assigned and the date due, I won’t be able to write on a Sunday? I won’t take that assignment.

This schedule makes us go device-free for time every. single. day.  It makes sure I am being present for my husband and kids each day.

Because of all the open family time on the weekends, we are flexible for putting fun things on the calendar or for tackling house tasks.

I also have the opportunity to look forward and say, “I didn’t get all the essays graded I needed to, but I have time tomorrow to do it again.”

I realize at first glance it’s easy to say, “but you have ever single minute of your life SCHEDULED!” But if you look closely, you will see that I have scheduled the unscheduled as well.

The other benefits to this is that it puts our whole family into a sort of predictable routine which has been wonderful for Eddie and Charlie and has made communication between Cortney and myself much better.  We share bedtime duty with Eddie so it’s not a same-day decision.  It’s expected that I will be gone during nap on Sundays to go work at Starbucks on my writing, so no one is being resentful of that time.

Our weekends have been much more fulfilling and happy since we started this schedule, as have our evenings.

I don’t think this sort of box-style scheduling is for everyone, but it is definitely what is working for me and my famly right now.

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