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.

Moving Forward

“You seem to be in a place where you can now decide if you are done,” she started to say as I started to shake my head, “or if you want to cut way back on our visits.”

I started picking at the seam of my pants with uncertainty.

Three years ago I finally told my doctor something wasn’t right and got help. Two years ago I started talk therapy with Dr. Melissa.

One year ago I had a relapse with my postpartum depression.

But I have been feeling really good the past month or so.  Like really good.  Like…dare I say…”normal”?

My last visit to my psychiatrist was approximately 3 minutes long.  There was nothing to discuss other than he didn’t need to see me again for 12 weeks and here are the refills on your prescriptions until that time. Have a great summer.

And then there was the therapy visit.  We talked about being in a good place.  We talked about putting my care back to my GP and away from the psychiatrist. And then she said that thing. About being possibly done.

That can’t be right. I can’t be done. Not yet.  Not with so much uncertainty out there.  I mean…what if I have another break down?  What if the day after we decide I am done, I need her?  I need therapy?  I need…to not be done?

Last week, eight days after that therapist appointment, I read a post by a blogger that encouraged her readers to come here…to this place…to Sluiter Nation…to learn “how to move forward” after having a postpartum mood disorder.

Me?  Showing how to move forward?  How to pick up the pieces and go on with your life?  That is a big responsibility.  That is a big compliment that I could possibly be well enough now to be a role model for Life After PPD.

Is that me?

Am I now in a place that is Beyond PPD?

I still take my medication.  I still have anxiety attacks, but I know how to spot them coming and what to do about them before I am throwing potato chip bags at my poor, confused husband.

However I can’t remember the last time I had a depressed episode.  I’ve had funks that I have been in, but nothing that I would say qualified as actually being depressed.

I have never thought of myself as being “past” that phase until this weekend. For one, I realized Charlie is almost 14 months old–I am not considered “postpartum” anymore.  I know that seems like a mundane thing…like a “who cares” kind of label that was just shed, but it’s sort of a big deal to me.  I’m out of that “first year” phase.  Any of my mood stuff is not associated with “postpartum” anymore.

And I do still have mood stuff.

Friday night after Cort’s graduation ceremony we were herding the kids home waaaay past their bedtimes and I was struggling with some breathing exercises because I could feel the panic of a full weekend ahead of us rising in my chest.  Instead of giving in to it I just informed Cort that I was struggling, but that things would be Ok.

He tried to tell Eddie to stop talking so it wouldn’t bother me, but I recognized that while his incessant constant chatter was bothering me, he was just being a three-almost-four-year-old who hadn’t seen his parents in over 12 hours.  I said, “it’s ok. He can talk,” and I closed my eyes, leaned my face against the cool window, and breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth.

When we got home, I went right to the bathroom to collect myself.  I put my jammies on and heard Cort insisting Eddie go downstairs and wait for him while he put Charlie to bed.  Eddie was not having it (you know, because he was over-tired and missed his parents).  I weakly called out, “I’ll put him to bed.”

Cort was insistent, “you don’t feel good. I can do it. Really.”

(Side note:  That guy takes SUCH good care of me.  I am a lucky lady.)

I pulled myself together and went downstairs to where Cort was helping Eddie with brushing his teeth.  “Really, babe.  I want to.  It’s just laying by him.  That is what I should do if I feel bad anyway.”

So Eddie finished up and we hopped into bed 90 minutes past his bedtime.  We chatted quietly for about 5 minutes, he announced he couldn’t sleep and within 2 more minutes he was sawing logs with an open mouth breathing heavily into my face.

I smiled.

I pulled his blankets up a bit further, kissed his smooshy cheek, and told him I loved him.

And then I was fine.  The anxiety attack had passed.  I could handle the busy weekend.

It was just one weekend.

And the busy was good busy.  We would have such awesome experiences.

It’s Monday morning during my planning hour.  I am tired.  Over-tired.  Normally this would be the first step to depressed, but I don’t feel it this time.

I just feel tired.

So I will go to bed on time tonight–probably not post anything here tomorrow–and get a good night sleep.

And I will be myself again tomorrow.

I still have anxiety.  I still deal with OCD. I will still have depressive episodes.

But I am beyond PPD.  I am more myself now than I have been in four years.

Am I ready to be done with talk therapy?  No.

But I am willing to cut down to once a month and move my prescriptive care back to my GP from my psychiatrist.  And even though that might sound like a boring little tidbit, it’s sort of a big deal to me.

It means that I haven’t just shed the label of postpartum, I have also gained more of myself back.

And that is a big deal.

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

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accepting the unacceptable

My name is Katie and after my first child I suffered from Postpartum Depression.

and anxiety.

and OCD.

and post traumatic stress disorder.

But I got pregnant again anyway.

I would like to say I am a “success” story and none of these “issues” showed their stupid faces again.

But that would not be true.

I suffered again.

I still suffer.

My friend, Diana, the beautiful heart and soul of Hormonal Imbalances, asked me to talk about what it’s like admitting to PPD…again.

So I am over at her place while she is on a Disney cruise with her daughter. A very VERY deserved vacation for her.

So right? I am totally the Debbie Downer talking about depression while she is having fun.

It’s ok, she asked me to do it.

She is no stranger to “tough” times and her faith and good heart have been an immense inspiration and comfort to me in my own times of trial.

So won’t you please join me over there today while I spill my hatred and embarrassment and fears about going through postpartum depression all again (or maybe it never went away)?

Thanks.

See you over there.

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.

ashamed of reality

Yeah, y’all know what it is
Sometimes you gotta push through all your obstacles nah mean
No matter what the options are
There is no lose, there is no fail
Let’s go

I’m  not ready to tell you what happened.

But it was bad.  Almost.  Which made it bad to me even if the bad that happened really didn’t happened, but almost happened.

I can’t type the words yet because then I will have to look back at the and it will be real.

And I am ashamed of that reality.

Seem like life go lighting speed
Slow it on down just to breathe
It’s cold outside, adjust your sleeve

Today I am navigating life a little more slowly.  A little more cautiously.

Each moment hits my skin and I allow it to sizzle through me.

I feel it wholly.

Since Friday I have felt even my blinks be more deliberate.

It’s like something shifted.

Heart made of stone and I can not cry
Hand on the glass I can feel the rain
You don’t want to fight and I feel your pain
But I gotta go hard / gotta go far
That don’t mean we gotta fall apart
I’m gonna stand, tall, for all of us

I met with my therapist and said the words out loud for the second time.

(the first was to Cort, without being able to look him in the face).

I knew nothing she said would help what almost happen be erased.

There was some reassurance.  I did not have a psychotic episode.

But there was frustration.  Sadness.  Grief.  Anger.

At what was and is and will probably always be part of my life.

Fate on the phone and they calling us
Came from the ground and we crawling up
You can feel it in ya fist when you ball it up

I have another appointment on Wednesday.

This time with a psychiatrist.

An evaluation is needed.

I hate this.

If the sky turns black – It don’t matter
We know the sun is coming up
Built so strong – it won’t shatter
We were born to run!

But yesterday Eddie gave me the best hugs.

And today Charlie nuzzled me until he fell asleep.

And Cort swatted my behind in the kitchen.

And Eddie made me laugh so hard with just being himself that I was a pile of tears.

And Charlie’s soft warm hands found my face with giggles and coos.

And Cort’s fart jokes made me chuckle in spite of myself.
Sky turn black – don’t matter
Built so strong – won’t shatter
We were born to ru-ru-run
We were born to ru-ru-run

I still hate it.

But I will be better.

I hate that I have to “get better”.

But I love that I will be better.

Because I am strong.

Even if I am broken.

Hand on the glass I can feel the rain
You don’t want to fight and I feel your pain
But I gotta go hard, gotta go far
That don’t mean we gotta fall apart

I’m gonna stand, tall, for all of us

Friday I wanted to give up.

Saturday and Sunday I wanted to pretend Friday didn’t happen.

Monday I wished I was someone else.

The rest of the week I slowed down to notice the light getting closer.

And feel the warmth spread over my face.
If the sky turns black – It don’t matter
We know the sun is coming up
Built so strong – it won’t shatter
We were born to run!

I am broken.

I am.

But slowly I am gathering the pieces.

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

Lyrics by 7Lions from “Born 2 Run”

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