Climbing Out

It has been six years and I still remember it like it was yesterday.

I sat on the edge of our disheveled bed in my pajamas while Cortney got his breakfast ready in the kitchen. My hand shook as I followed the instructions and pushed the appropriate numbers to make an appointment.

“I need to make an appointment for today with Dr. W.”

“What do you need to see her regarding?”

“I think I have postpartum depression.”

“According to our records, you haven’t been in to see Dr. W in over a year, so we will have to process this as a new patient. I’m not sure she will want to see you for this today.”

“I have to come in today. That is why I called at 7am. For a same day appointment.”

“I’ll have to put in a note for her and call you back when she gets in.”

“But I took the day off.”

“We will call you back.”

I hung up and started crying. It was too late to get ready and get to work. Besides, I had already put in for a substitute and made plans. Now what?

At that moment, Cortney came in and asked what time my appointment was. I told him there was no appointment and relayed the conversation I had had with the receptionist.

“That is unacceptable,” he stated angrily.

I cried harder.

“We are calling them back.”

I knew what he was thinking: if I didn’t go in today, I wouldn’t go in. And I had to go in. The night before was one of my worst meltdowns yet and it was the first time I admitted that maybe something was wrong. If I waited, I would change my mind. It had to be today and he wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer.

I’m not sure who called back, but I remember Cortney getting on the phone and demanding an appointment for me…and getting one. Later that day my doctor nodded vigorously as I told her what had been going on: I was mad all the time. I took out all my rage on the people closest to me. I wasn’t sleeping well, but I wanted to sleep all the time. Mostly I was just mad.

She looked at me and said, “normally I would say let’s wait and see, maybe try some therapy, but it’s been nine months of this, right? You did the wait and see on your own. You have postpartum depression, and I am going to suggest an antidepressant along with talk therapy.”

Sometimes I look back and hate that day. My postpartum depression and generalized anxiety are full-blown depression and anxiety (with some OCD on the side) now. Some people have PPD and it goes away. Mine has stuck around. Sometimes that makes me mad.

But mostly I look back on that day as the day I got my life back. The day Cortney got his wife back. The day Eddie got his mom back. That is the day a team formed around me: my doctors, therapist, psychiatrist, family, and friends. That was when I found out who was going to stay with me; the ones who said, “let’s tackle this thing together!”

That was the day I found out I don’t have to do anything in this life alone.

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I credit the internet for helping me know what to look for because I never, ever would have connected my rage to depression. I thought that being mad all the time was just how I felt about having a child–I thought that was what motherhood felt like. I was totally wrong. Katherine Stone and the other warrior mommas of Postpartum Progress saw my blog post about it and rallied around me immediately. Because of them and Lauren’s (of My Postpartum Voice#ppdchat on twitter, I was able to connect with hundreds of women who were just like me–going through the same thing as me.

When I had Charlie, they were right there for me: listening to my fears about my PPD coming back, supporting me as I tried (and failed) to go off my meds during my pregnancy, virtually hugging me and praying for me when I relapsed in the months after Charlie’s birth.  They were there through my pregnancy with Alice. They have celebrated with me as I have avoided a new relapse this time around.

Postpartum Progress is a non-profit that supports thousands of women around the world–including me. Katherine Stone and her staff advocate tirelessly for better support and less stigma related to mental health issues specifically surrounding postpartum women–including me. Their advocacy has saved lives–including mine.

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In 2013, Postpartum Progress started a Climb Out event where participants do a climb in their area to raise money and awareness for Postpartum Progress and their advocacy programs. The first climb had 177 participants in 40 states and 7 countries and raised $40,000. Last year the climb had 2,500 participants in 45 states and 5 countries and raised $230,000.

This year I am doing the climb.

I’m doing it to give back to Katherine and Postpartum Progress for helping me get my life back.

I’m doing it to show my kids that I am strong and healthy (and Cortney and the kids are doing it with me!)

I’m doing it to celebrate NO PPD with Alice.

I’m doing it to celebrate surviving.

I’m doing it because I think back at how uninformed and scared and angry and just sad I was six years ago sitting with my hands between my knees in my doctor’s office. I was afraid to say anything. I thought I was a terrible person.

At times, I wanted to relieve my family of the burden of me.

Did you know that the second leading cause of death for postpartum women is suicide?

That could have been me.

But it wasn’t.

So I am celebrating.

If you want to support my Climb or join our team climbing in Grand Haven, Michigan, you can visit my fundraiser page here. The Climb takes place on June 18 (our eleventh anniversary!) and our whole family will be participating!

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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.

like me

“He is so much like me…it worries me,” I said to my therapist at my appointment last week.

I was talking about Eddie.

I talk about him a lot in therapy.

Being a mom is hard for me.  His being placed in my arms didn’t do that thing that I thought it would do.  I thought it would transform me into a crying emotional ball of love and gratitude for the perfect being that I grew in my tummy.

But instead I was left confused. And tired. And depressed. And anxious. And resentful.

I’m still confused.

And tired.

Our relationship is like nothing I have ever experienced before.

I suppose that should be a given…that it is obvious.  But for some reason it surprises me daily, hourly even.

It’s a strange thing seeing a tiny version of yourself walking around in the world.

And Eddie truly is a small version of me in almost every way possible.

I watch him play and think out loud to himself and I can remember doing the same thing when I was small.  He has trouble falling asleep when there are things on his mind just like me.  When something bothers or worries or puzzles him he needs to talk it out, just like I do.

He also worries.

A lot.

He thinks about big things that seem too big for a 3 year old to worry about.

Like the idea of “forever” and “death” and “heaven”.

He asks questions I don’t know the answers to for my own mind let alone how to put something into words that will soothe the worry of such a small little guy.

“I worry about him turning out like me.”

“Is that bad?”

“I just don’t want him to…end up…here,” I say as I look around my therapist’s office, “you know, no offense or anything.”

He is emotional. Dramatic. Worrisome.

He is me.

He wears his heart on his sleeve and cannot tell a lie.

He is me.

He gets excited about the smallest things and cries over even smaller things.

He is me.

But…he is also Eddie.

He is NOT me.

He is Eddie.

He loves me fiercely…and I love him madly.

And I hope I am enough for him…

so he doesn’t end up like me.

Ok, maybe he can be a little like me.

advocacy vs avoidance

Over the past week, five totally unrelated people who know nothing of each other’s existences asked me similar questions:

“Do your students know about your blog?  What do you do if they find it?”

“Do you think your students know about your mental issues?”

“What if parents or administrators found your blog?”

“How can you advocate for being open about depression and stuff on your blog, but not talk about it in real life much?”

“You don’t talk about depression at your school, do you?”

In a nutshell, no I do not advertise my blog at school, but I like to think I write in a way that if a parent or administrator were to find this site, there would be no issues.

I mean, when you google “Katie Sluiter” I am the entire first page of search results (at least I was the last time I checked which was not just before I wrote this, so things could’ve changed).

But yes, kids find it.  Usually while we are in the computer lab doing something that has nothing to do with google searching your Spanish or English teacher.

This is how it usually goes…

Kid: Hey Mrs. Sluiter!  I just found you on google!  You have a blog?  HA HA HA HA!
Me: Yup.
Kid: What’s it about?
Me: It’s on your screen; read it.
Kid: Looks like mom stuff.  BOOOORRRING!
Me: Are you done with this part of your assignment that you should have had done 10 minutes ago?
Kid: Wait. What are we supposed to be doing?
Me:  O_o

And that is all I hear.

Except when I hear this:

Kid in hall to me when no one else is listening or after school in my room: Um, Mrs. Sluiter?
Me: What’s up?
Kid: I saw you had a blog.
Me: Oh yeah. I do.
Kid: I like it.  You have really cute kids.
Me: Aw thanks.  Yeah, they are handsome guys.
Kid: Um, I like that you talk about your depression.  I am on celexa (or other antidepressant) too.
Me: Oh yeah?  Small world! I hope it’s helping.
Kid: Yeah. It does. {insert longish, awkwardish pause} I like that you wrote about it.  Thanks.
Me: No problem. It helps to write it out.  You don’t have to put it on the internet like I do, but it does help.  You should try it.
Kid: Yeah. Maybe I will.  Thanks, Mrs. Sluiter.
Me: You are always welcome.

I have had a total of one parent comment on it.  It was a parent/teacher conferences and it was one of my writing students.  One of the coolest, most supportive moms I have had the pleasure of working with.  She told me she loved my open, honest writing and that my school and students were lucky to have me.

I’ve sent the link to my principal so he knows it exists.  Pretty sure he has never read it, but maybe he is just silent about it. I don’t know.

I don’t talk about my depression and anxiety in school at all.  Sometimes with a few co-workers, but not with students unless they bring it up.  And I never stick my hand out to parents and introduce myself as the English teacher with PPD.

Consequently, I don’t talk about it much with my family or friends either.

They either read the blog and know about it, or know about it because they have been made aware of it.  Either way, it’s not a conversation we have much.

I’ve been accused of being hypocritical because I don’t shout it from the rooftops.

I am all about breaking down the stigma.  It’s why I talk about it here.  But I don’t know how that translates into “real life”.

It’s uncomfortable to bring up out of no where with people, but if someone asks, I am good about dispelling myths or telling them what my experience is like.

But I don’t go to restaurants and order my burger and then tell my server about my PPD, PPA, and OCD.

I don’t let the dressing room attendants at the GAP know I have Generalized Anxiety.

I don’t let the cashier at Target in on my PTSD.

And I sure as heck don’t put any of that stuff in my syllabus in the About Mrs. Sluiter section, nor do I introduce myself that way in my welcome email to parents.

If someone asks about it, I don’t lie.  I mean, duh. The google search.

Do I hide it?

Do I fear stigma?

Am I afraid parents won’t want their kids in the class of someone who suffers from depression and anxiety?

Do I think parents/students would blame ME when their child gets called out for behavior because I am the one with a problem?

I guess yes a little to all of these things.

But only as much as I feared these things being a pregnant teacher too.

Kids all the time would say, “You’re just mean because you are pregnant.”

No, I am being mean because you have been talking to your neighbor ALL HOUR WHILE I AM TEACHING.

You see what I mean.

So where is that line?  It seems to be a mighty light, hard-to-see line between being ashamed and being an advocate.

For me, it’s easy to “talk it out” here because I am not talking out loud to a face.  I can think about my words. Pace myself.  Say things exactly how I want to.

In real life I am awkward and nervous and can’t look you in the eye well when I talk about it.

Here I bring it up. Over and over and over.  Mostly so I can process it and document it, but also so YOU can feel less alone and YOU can know how your best friend, sister, wife, mom, whomever is feeling.

In real life I don’t bring it up, but I definitely don’t run from it.

Here it is natural.

In real life it is awkward.

Why is that?

Heavy Alphabet Soup

Two weeks ago I had an episode that made me terrified my PPD was back in an ugly horrible way.

One week ago I admitted it here.

Wednesday I saw the psychiatrist that my therapist referred me to for re-evaluation.

Dr. D.

I was a nervous wreck going in.  I had no idea what to expect and that drives me all sorts of crazy.  No pun intended.  Ok, maybe a little intended.

Dr. D is a man.  My therapist is a woman. I have never ever had issues with having a man as my doctor for anything until I started therapy four years ago with a man whose name I no longer remember, but refer to as Dave Thomas when I talk about him with Cort.  Because that is who he looked like.  A total grandpa in a cardigan.

How in the heck to you talk about major anxiety and anger or woman stuff with Grandpa Dave?

You don’t.

So you quit therapy because you figure you can manage your Generalized Anxiety Disorder with all coping techniques you’ve learned.  And you would be right…until you have a baby.

Ok…enough with the second person…I was doing great managing my anxiety for about a year and a half…until Eddie was born.

Nine months after Eddie was born, I was diagnosed by my General Practitioner with Postpartum Depression (I’ve written about those horrible 9 months).  I was put on Celexa.  A few months later, I was also given Ambien to deal with my lack of sleeping due to Postpartum Anxiety.

Everyone in my life noticed a positive change once I grabbed my diagnosis and attacked the plan to make myself healthy.

And then I got knocked up with Charlie.

My OB really wanted to see me give up the Celexa while I was pregnant.  My therapist and my GP didn’t think it was a good idea.

For some reason Because I put Charlie before myself, I tried to go off the meds.

I failed horribly.

But instead of being down about it, I looked at it as proof that the Celexa was still doing something, and I agreed with my therapist and GP that a healthy momma would be a MUCH better momma.

Then I started my rounds of Progesterone to help sustain the pregnancy.

Then I started barfing my face off on the daily and needed to take Zofran.

Then I went through a super ugly bout of Antenatal Depression that thankfully dissipated during the second trimester.

And then other than being uncomfortably pregnant and worrying about a placenta previa, things went smoothly.  Charlie was born via a wonderful planned C-section, we bonded immediately and fiercely, and I experienced a joy I only read about on other people’s blogs.

I have raved that this time has been better.  And it has.  Hands down.

Charlie is an “easier” baby than Eddie was which means my anxiety hasn’t had a chance to sky-rocket.  The times it has all centered around things not going my way or as it was planned.  I did have a few anger issues with Eddie (never violent and I always removed myself when I could feel it building) and twitchy eye moments with stuff not being EXACTLY how I wanted it.  But I was managing.

My therapist has mentioned that she thought I might have a bit of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder still lingering from Eddie’s emergency C-section since it was as much as an emergency with my health as with his. And possibly even from my miscarriages. But I didn’t think too much about it.  I mean, it had been three years ago.  Surely that had worked it’s way out or you know, whatever.

Anyway, that brings us to the episode in which I couldnotavoid it happening (although the thing I almost did, I didn’t do, but it was terrifying nonetheless).

So here we are. In Dr. D’s office.

He was nice, I guess.  I mean, he didn’t try to get to know me since it was just an evaluation. He didn’t laugh at my lame attempts at jokes, so I sort of rung my hands the whole time, but he wasn’t a jerk or anything.

It was all just very clinical.  He asked me questions about symptoms that I assume he was pulling up from his computer because he was staring at it and typing every time I would answer (or he was on twitter talking about me to his followers. “this lady is CRAY, yo!” whatever). And I would answer as best as I could.

It was sort of like the checklist of stuff you fill out with a new therapist, but instead of just checking the box, I got to explain it.

His office was also very cold and boring. I am not sure why I feel like I need to say that, but it was painted this stupid blue color which I am assuming is supposed to be calming, but there was NOTHING on the wall or on his desk to prove that he wasn’t a machine.  It was…odd.  But the furniture?  WAY more comfy than in my therapist’s office.  Which is also strange to me.

And yes, he had a couch.  But no, I didn’t get to lay on it.

So at the end he looked at me and he told me this:

“So I would say that you have Generalized Anxiety, Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, a bit of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, what we will call “regular” Depression that is somewhat in remission at the moment, and you show significant signs of having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.”

This is what I saw fly out of his mouth:

GA, PPD, PPA, PTSD, and OCD.

Alphabet soup.  Heavy Alphabet soup as a twitter follower pointed out.

Then he talked about doubling my Celexa dose and giving me “on a need basis” anti-anxiety med that I am a little bit terrified of, if I am being completely honest.  I am terrified of the drug and I am terrified of what could cause the need for me to take the drug (another episode like two weeks ago), and I’m terrified that he thinks it might happen again so it’s best if I have the drug.

I’m even a bit scared of this doubling my Celexa.  Is this permanent?  Why does it need to go up?  Will it ever go back down?  How will we know?

I am sort of looking forward to talking with my therapist about all this in a couple weeks.

I am proud of myself for stopping when the episode happened and reaching out immediately to Cort to let him know something happened. I know that getting help is what is best for me and my family.  I know from experience I can’t just handle this on my own.

I just very much struggle with what I KNOW and what I feel.

I still feel very angry that I have to deal with this at all.  I don’t want it.  Any of it.  I don’t want to be on meds, not because I don’t want to be better, but because I don’t want to have all these letters.

I know they don’t define me.  But they are part of who I am. They are part of my biological make up.  They are chemical imbalances in my brain.

Just like I hate that my best friend is diabetic and will be on insulin her whole life, I hate that I am a jumble of mental illnesses and I will be on medsmywhole life.

It’s not fair.

And that is what I am struggling with right now.

a heart of conflicts

I can feel my anxiety creeping into the cracks and creases of my brain and heart and being again.

I tried to relax over break.

I had sixteen days off from work.

For the most, part it was nice.  I mean, I didn’t have to get up at 5:30am which meant I didn’t have to go to bed at 9:00pm.  Cort also had off from school, so he was home in the evenings.

I didn’t have to grade papers…ok, yes I did, but I put it off until the last day.

I didn’t have to do lesson plans.

I could take naps and read and do my needlepoint.

When Eddie wasn’t all up in my space.  Which was pretty much only during nap or when Cort was home.

I found that getting any organization done or time to just myself was impossible.  By the end of the two weeks, Eddie was very needy for other kids and organized crafts and play time, and I was ready to talk to someone about something other than dinosaurs and mickey mouse.

Don’t get me wrong, the cuddles and the book-reading and the hilarious saying Eddie has picked up made my day each and every day.

And his bed head in the morning?  Forget it.  I giggled each day when he would call, “mooooommmmyyyyyy!!!  Get up!  Sun up!” and I would walk into a little mini-blond ‘fro smiling at me.

But in between time?  When I wanted him to play by himself or watch TV so I could organize the top of the fridge or empty the dishwasher or take everything out of a cupboard to clean and organize?  He was suddenly all about his mommy.

I get this.  I do.

But after two weeks I was ready to just go back to work and feel productive and do “grown up” work.

Last night as I was hoping to fall asleep early, my mind started swirling.  I was home for two weeks.

In less than nine weeks, I will be off from work for 24 weeks.

24 weeks away from “grown up” work.

24 weeks with a toddler and a newborn.

My maternity leave with Eddie was 12 weeks and I ended up shipping him off to daycare once a week just to try to feel like myself and have Katie time.

It wasn’t enough and my spiral into postpartum depression got a bit out of control.

I am afraid.

I am anxious.

Two weeks with a toddler who was really quite well behaved and loving was enough.

Did I just type that?

What is wrong with me?  As a mother, how do I not want to be with my cutie pie funny little kid all the time?

How can I not look forward to time away from work?

From the time Charlie is born until school gets out at the end of May, Eddie will be going to daycare full time to allow me to get on some sort of schedule with Charlie.

But after that?  For the summer?

Me and the two boys.

That should be exciting, but instead my hands just started sweating and tears sprang to my eyes as I typed that.

Maybe it’s because I also have a horrible paranoia of leaving the house with my kid(s).  Not because I think we or they are going to get hurt.  It’s just so mentally and physically exhausting for me.  It’s like the idea that I will have to herd cats.

I have been told over and over that it is my anxiety disorder and my depression that are causing me to feel this way and to have these thoughts and that I am not a bad mother.

But I feel horrible.

Horrible.

What kind of good mother feels like puking when she thinks of an extended time home with her own kids?  What kind of mom wants to hold onto her kids and get rid of them at the exact same time?

I miss Eddie fiercely when we are away from each other.  It’s like a piece of me is missing.

But when we are together, I just want someone else to be there.  Or to take him. Or something.

How can these two very intense yet opposing feelings be present at the same time?

And how am I going to make it 24 weeks with all this?  And the 9 weeks in anticipation of the 24 weeks?

How can I make this tightening in my chest and burning in my eyes go away?

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