Therapy, Spring Cleaning, and An Update

23 Apr

Doodlebug

Almost 2 months ago, I wrote about taking my eldest daughter to counseling.  It’s a hard thing to start, counseling – at least it was for me 5 years ago when I began treatment for my postpartum depression.  All I knew of therapy was what I had seen on television and in pop culture, and neither was particularly flattering.

I believed that seeking therapy showed weakness.  Deficiency.  Now I know it shows strength.  It takes courage to admit that things are not as they should be as you want them to be.  What surprised me was the amount of bravery required to see the process through.

For me, it was kind of like cleaning out a long-neglected closet.  First, you take everything out.  You dig to the bottom of boxes and bins.  You spread the clutter throughout the room and it feels like you’re going backward – making more of a mess instead of cleaning up.  It’s at that precise moment you consider just scooping up armfuls of momentos, lost buttons, and dirty socks and  closing them back in the boxes they emerged from.  Maybe you can pretend you never saw them.  But instead, you take a deep breath and make a conscious choice to move forward.  As each item crosses you hands, you make a decision.  You process what it means to you and you decide how to let it further affect your life.  This goes in the garbage.  That gets put away on a shelf.  And maybe this other thing was something you had been desperately searching for.

It’s laborious.  Tedious.  Emotional.  And some days, I left therapy feeling worse than when I went in.  And then?  One day things started to feel less overwhelming.  It was like that moment when you place the last organized bin in the neglected closet and the doors shut for the first time in years, and you think maybe, just maybe, you can tackle another room.

So.  I was prepared for a process when my daughter began working with her counselor.  I was prepared for things to get worse before they got better, and I was ready for it to take a while.  As it turns out, she’s made incredible progress in the last 8 weeks.  Her outbursts are fewer and less intense.  She can identify her emotions and use her words to share about them.  And most importantly, she’s learned to ask for help.

It’s honestly been an amazing transformation, and I can’t rationally give all the credit to 6 therapy appointments, no matter how much I like and respect her therapist.  At the recommendation of several friends and family, despite my intense skepticism, we substituted almond milk for cow’s milk in our house.  Some of you suggested that a food allergy or intolerance could manifest as behavioral problems.  Doodlebug suffered from MSPI as a baby, and I assumed she outgrew it as the physical symptoms disappeared after about 18 months.  Because of her history with milk intolerance and her sister’s current inability to drink milk, I thought it was worth a try. She’s well-nourished, so what could it hurt?

Now, maybe the counseling gave her a sense of connectedness and belonging that she was missing.  Or maybe, like many things, her behavioral changes were just part of a phase.  Perhaps she matured neurologically in the last 8 weeks and everything I’ve done to help her only appears to have worked because of coincidence.  This is not hard science, and I’m not prepared to test my theories by handing her a giant glass of milk and waiting for the fireworks to begin.  I’m happy to just be glad things are better and to be mindful of what may have helped.

We’re taking a break from therapy for a while - she and I both know it’s there if we need it.  And my daughter knows it’s nothing to be ashamed of or to fear.

What a gift I’ve given her, normalizing something that was so traumatic and stigmatizing for me.

I’m kind of proud of myself.

Now if I could only find time to work on those closets.

 

Click here to donate to my Climb Out of the Darkness Hike!

Click here to donate to my Climb Out of the Darkness Hike!

Kitty Cuddle Time

17 Apr

Need a little happy today? You can borrow Marble, my 11-year-old Tabby. She’s got your happy right here.

Climb Out of the Darkness and a Raffle!

13 Apr

It’s that time of the year again – when I ask you to support moms just like me – with your wallets.

Believe me, it’s awkward for me, too.  I’m not good at asking for help, and I’m definitely not a sales person or an advertising expert.  But I believe in Postpartum Progress and the work that Katherine Stone is doing to help new moms.  She gave me back the joy that was missing from my pregnancy and postpartum period and has given me a voice as a writer and advocate.  It’s my time to give back.

Whether it’s $1 or $100, every dollar helps get new moms access to up-to-date information about perinatal mental illnesses.  With the money raised, Postpartum Progress will be contributing to local organizations that support new moms and families.  We will be increasing our outreach by streamlining our widely popular blog (90,000 view a month!).  Your money will help this baby non-profit grow into the powerhouse advocacy organization that mothers and babies need it to be.

Here’s where I appeal to your sense of obligation:

Just $10 (the cost of a few coffees) from 50 readers would far surpass my wildest dreams of raising $400.

And your practical side:

It’s tax-deductable!

And the part of you that loves winning stuff:

Each $10 donation enters you in a drawing for a $20 gift certificate to my Etsy shop, Crocheted Happiness.

  • Shop the sale and get two ready-made hats!
  • Shop made-to-order designs and have something made for next winter or for that friend you know who is having a baby soon!
  • Have something custom-designed just for you!

Crocheted Happiness

All hometown donors are also entered to win a free piano lesson ($20 value).  I teach students aged 5 and above.

How to enter: Simply make your donation on the Crowdrise website.  I will add your name and entries to my list of donors and will randomly draw one name using random.org on June 24th, 2014.  Local donors will be added to both the Etsy drawing and piano lesson drawing.

Those of you who have already donated?  THANK YOU!  I am tracking all donations and have already entered you in the raffle.

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Accomplishment, Worthiness, and Compulsion

11 Apr

I let someone down recently.  They saw a side of me I genuinely hate but can’t seem to change.

I have “compulsive completion disease”.  If there’s a job that needs doing, I throw myself into it and knock tasks off the to-do list with wild abandon.  I honestly can’t help myself and usually don’t realize I’ve overstepped my bounds until it’s too late.  I was the kind of kid in school who completed class projects weeks before their due date, who looked forward to homework, who hated group projects, and who reminded the teacher that he had forgotten that extra credit assignment for us to turn in on Monday.  If you *were* in a class project with me?  You probably got an A but didn’t get to do much.

My mom has it, too.  When she comes to watch the kids, she often puts in a load of laundry and unloads the dishwasher.  She brings rolls of paper towels and reorganizes my pantry.  It drives me nuts.

I used to feel like she helped out because she thought I couldn’t handle the housework … as if her assistance was a quiet judgement of my diminishing value as a housekeeper.

But really, that was just how I felt about myself.  I was the only person who thought her help was about me.

I’ve learned to let her help.  I ignore the thoughts that feel annoyed and focus on accepting her assistance, because the truth is that I really do need it with the housework and the girls.  And I’ve learned when to ask her not to help… because the truth is that there are times I want to do things for myself, and I want her to respect those boundaries.  She does.

A friend asked me to step back recently.  To help less and to listen more.  And that my personality hurt her somehow is eating at me.  I know I always seem so wise and so in control of the shame that plagues us all, but this one, I just can’t shake.

I’ve apologized.  She and I are okay.  I know that my imperfection does not make me unworthy of her friendship.  But I know I’ve let her down.  I loathe letting people down as much as I adore helping people –  which just goes to show that I’m equating my self-worth with my accomplishments instead of believing that I am worthy of love and belonging despite what I do or what mistakes I make.

Letting accomplishments feed my joy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when I find myself clutching success with an iron grip in fear of losing people I love, I need to reexamine my motivations.

I’m a do-er.  It’s a part of who I am.

But I want to do better at doing less.

“Do You Wanna Build a Snowmaaaaan” Cover: by my 2-year-old

4 Apr

You guys.  The toddler who wouldn’t talk suddenly has a huge vocabulary.  And thanks to a few dozen viewings of Frozen, she SINGS.  Sings.

Wait for it – it’s worth every second.  The way she leans into the door to muffle her voice like Anna?  And when she touches the door before singing “okay, byeeeeee….”  I just couldn’t love this kid anymore.

p.s.  The husband and I will perform Love Is An Open Door when my Climb Out of the Darkness fundraiser hits $400.  I am not a singer.  That’s how epic it will be.

 

 

Letting Go of the Guilt

4 Apr

I’m over at Postpartum Progress this week with three posts.  Last night, I remembered that I hadn’t yet written a third post for the week, so I dragged my exhausted self to the keyboard and just started typing.  What spilled out turned out to be exactly what I needed to write.

“I suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety with a side of OCD for two years after my first child was born.  And though I sought treatment and began my path to wellness after my baby had her 5 month birthday, it took every last day of that additional 19 months for me to feel like I wasn’t waiting for the other shoe to drop.  If you asked my husband, he’d tell you now that I’ve completely recovered from my PPD and from the antenatal depression that hit when my second child was still baking.  But he’d also tell you that I still suffer.”

I hope you’ll join me over at Katherine Stone’s place to read the rest and find out how I’ve battled the guilt that followed my severe PPD.

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Click the image to DONATE to my Climb Out of the Darkness hike!

Climb Out of the Darkness 2014

2 Apr

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I’ve written extensively about my experiences suffering from postpartum depression, postpartum OCD, and antenatal depression and anxiety.  I don’t shy away from telling how devastating my first couple of years as a mother were, both for me and my family.  And I’ve told you how I found myself severely depressed when I was only 7 weeks pregnant with my second baby.

Today, I’m asking for your help.  I’m asking for you to support my work as an advocate for moms, for babies, and for families.

Postpartum Progress, and its founder Katherine Stone, were instrumental in my path to wellness.  Because of Katherine, I found an amazing doctor who gave me the tools (and the medications) to make my second pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum experiences joyful.  Because of Katherine, I found support from mothers just like me.  Because of Katherine, I found my voice as an advocate and writer.

Postpartum Progress is growing, taking on new challenges and projects, and is as dedicated as ever to decreasing stigma and increasing awareness of antenatal and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.  And that?  Takes money.

15-20% of all women will get a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder like postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. That’s 1 in every 7, more than the number of women who will get breast cancer.  That’s your mother, your sister, your daughter, your friend.  And quite possibly, you.

Please help me help new moms by donating to my Climb Out of the Darkness hike!  I’ll be climbing Mt. Washington with a team of women from Massachusetts and New Hampshire in June!  Yup, climbing a mountain.  Me.  Because that’s how much I love Katherine and believe in what Postpartum Progress is doing for women all over the world.

If you can’t donate, please pass this along.  Ask your friends, family, neighbors.  Let them know there is an army of Warrior Moms hiking in solidarity in June on the Summer Solstice.  Together we can drop kick despair.

On A Budget: Week Four (in which I crawl back on the wagon)

31 Mar

There’s something about the winters here in New England - being stuck inside where the germs multiply like rabbits and the air stagnates is a special kind of torture.  And it seems like once a virus breaks into our home, it’s guaranteed to take down every last one of us.

We spent almost three weeks fighting colds, viruses, and a nasty stomach bug, which meant that no one wanted to each much of anything.  Good for the budget, bad for our health.  When we did eat, it was scrambled eggs or toast, and dinner was whatever could be scrounged from the deep freezer.

But here we are, healthy and back on track (mostly).  I’ve planned the week’s menus and scheduled groceries for pickup tomorrow morning.  No matter that I forgot to buy bread while at Whole Foods today or that I’ve been to Target twice this week and each time forgot to buy Kleenex (my southern roots are showing, aren’t they?).  I’m trying to be kind to myself as the whole family attempts to get back to normal.

This Week’s Menu:

  • Monday – Grilled chicken with chipotle seasoning:  Good for fajitas, burritos, sandwiches, and more!  Tonight we’re having it on a bed of Texmati rice with a side of black beans.
  • Tuesday – Cooking a big batch of spaghetti sauce to freeze! Spaghetti with meat sauce, frozen mixed veggies
  • Wednesday – My mom cooks dinner.  SCORE!
  • Thursday – Chicken and cheese quesadillas.
  • Friday – Grilled Salmon with honey/soy glaze, roasted asperagus
  • Saturday – Pizza night (because I fear there will be a mutiny)
  • Sunday – Leftovers

The Spend:

  • Whole Foods: $59.33  I’ll buy the salmon Friday morning so it’s fresh, adding another $10 later in the week.
  • Stop and Shop: $44.31
  • Total Spent this week: $103.64, $113.64 after the salmon.
  • Savings this week compared to the original $140 weekly bill: $26.36, bringing my total savings since beginning this 4-week budget experiment to $136.36!

This is my last week to post on the blog about my adventures in grocery shopping and budgets.  What did I learn?

  1. Small changes in your purchases can really add up.
  2. Shopping in the store isn’t necessarily worth your time.  If you have delivery or pick-up options, shopping online is worth the additional $5-10 you may spend, depending on how much time you have and how hard it is to shop in person.
  3. You don’t really have to sacrifice quality or the foods you love to decrease your weekly grocery bill.  Planning ahead, keeping in mind what’s on sale, and choosing meals that you can adapt for other nights can all help keep costs down.

The Adults Should Know Better

22 Mar

I’m well overdue for a good ol’ fashioned internet rant, and I’m afraid it’s gonna be a doozy.

Maybe you haven’t heard the story of the little boy who was bullied for his love of My Little Ponies and his Rainbow Dash backpack.  Grayson Bruce’s bullies physically attacked him as a part of their bullying, making him feel unsafe at school.  The school’s response?  Was to ban the backpack as it was a distraction and a “trigger for bullying.”  Basically, the school told Grayson that he was responsible for his own bullying and for the physical and emotional pain other children were intentionally causing him.  Their message to Grayson and to any student in their school who may be a little different is “Maybe you could be just a little less weird.  Is that so much to ask?”

I wish I could say that this kind of mentality from school officials isn’t the norm, but time and time again, I have witnessed students’ individuality systematically discouraged under the guise of rules about maintaining a “distraction free learning environment.”  Just this week, I heard from a friend and fellow parent that her daughter’s teacher recommended that her 4th grader seek counseling to learn how to “fit in better.”  You see, this child’s peers have sunk to ignoring her, name-calling, and the occasional “oops, I didn’t mean to place that sticker on your shoulder by hitting you.”

“Jane” is ostracized in and out of class because she’s a little different.  She likes things other kids don’t like, speaks a little loudly, often has her nose in a book, and doesn’t care about keeping up with the latest clothing styles.  I know this child well and see her weekly.  She is brilliant – mind-blowingly brilliant.  Creative, witty, and fun.  While the other girls in her class are swooning over teen heart throbs and gushing over their newest miniskirt, she loves Minecraft and computer games about animals… and it just so happens that her My Little Pony collection could probably rival Grayson’s. She loves learning and pours herself into school.  Or she did.

You see, her school’s response to the relational aggression and outright harassment being directed at her has been one of dismissal and excuses.  Her teacher insists she hasn’t seen any incidents of bullying and when Jane asks for help with a specific situation, she is told that nothing can be done since it’s a case of “he said, she said.”  When a boy harassed Jane on the bus, the bus driver told her that she was lying, and no action was taken until the mother contacted the administration.  Even after the boy’s mother had her son admit to the incident, no apology was issued to Jane from the school or the bus driver, and the boy suffered no consequences from the school for his behavior.  It’s no wonder Jane’s enthusiasm for school has waned.

And I have to wonder.  If Jane was more “normal,” would the teacher dismiss her cries for help?  If she were less introverted, would the administration tell her mother there is nothing they can do?  If she were your typical “popular” kid (tall and thin with designer clothes and an impatience to grow up), would the bus driver have accused her of lying?

The truth is that struggling to fit in with your peers is a rite of passage.  Kids can be downright cruel as they figure out how they fit into society and how to bend the social rules to their will.  That’s easy to explain and frankly, to be expected from children whose brains are quite literally still developing.  The adults… should know better.  School should be a safe place for all students to learn and play and it is job of each teacher and administrator to ensure that safety.  If Jane doesn’t have any advocates, even within the school staff, how can she possibly stand a chance with the other students?

Quote Bullying Post

I’m angry.  I’m angry for Jane and for Grayson.  I know firsthand that a teacher’s intervention can lift up a child who’s different from “weird” to “wonderful,” without asking the child to change who they are.  I’ve seen classrooms where teachers insisted on mutual respect among all the students, and where the “weird” kids were celebrated for their talents and abilities.  I’ve participated in classes where “unique” was the compliment it should be, and where there were no misfits because everyone was a misfit.  These teachers do one simple thing differently from teachers like Jane’s:  they place the blame for the bullying on the bully instead of the victim.  Students are not expected to love or befriend everyone in the class, but teasing is not tolerated and accusations of bullying are addressed immediately and sincerely.

My friend Miranda wrote about this recently as well, with her piece Stop It With the Victim Blaming.  In her piece, she reminds us that children are being destroyed by the kind of relational aggression and harassment that Jane faces at her school daily.  So don’t tell me that “in your day, you knew how to take an insult and just not let it bother you,” that you “don’t have enough time to deal with bullying,” or that these kids who dare (because they are DARING) to be themselves in a world that increasingly values homogeny somehow deserve to be treated as less than human.

Fitting in?  Is overrated.  It’s time to spread the word and stand up for the kids who are struggling.

Enough is enough.

**Obviously, the names in this post have been changed.***

Every Mother. Every Time.

14 Mar

Petition

I was in my first trimester of my first pregnancy when antenatal anxiety washed over me like the tide, insidious and unstoppable.  We were living on our own in the midwest at the time, and the loneliness was crushing.  I compensated for my irrational worries by donning a brave face and making light of my anxiety, to both friends and my doctors, and I assumed all newly pregnant women felt the same trepidation and slight panic I was suppressing.

I was 8 weeks pregnant when my OB called me into her office.  My fears and worries were suddenly compounded by a previously-undiagnosed kidney disease.  A giant mass in my abdomen.  And they had no idea what it was.  I taciturnly absorbed all the doctor said and then politely asked for a few moments alone.  When the door shut behind her, something in me broke.  I walked out of there a shadow of myself.  The next 6 months brought a multitude of diagnoses.  I was ultrasounded and MRIed (twice).  I met with several surgeons and had a cathertized void test done.  There were very few cases of pregnant women with my eventual diagnosis of severe hydronephrosis with 1% kidney function, and so few doctors could tell me exactly what to expect or how it would impact my pregnancy.  And that scared me to death.

Six months into my pregnancy, we moved to the North East.  My need for my family (who had moved up to the Boston area a few years before) outweighed my terror at the prospect of moving, but leading up to moving day, I had increased symptoms of panic attack.  I refused to drive while house hunting, irrationally fearful of the alien traffic patterns of our new-home-to-be.  I fought back waves of nausea at each apartment-hunting appointment, instead playing the part of the happy, expectant couple.  The night before our final flight out of the midwest, I became convinced I had a blood clot in my right leg – and the resulting (unnecessary) hospital trip ended in a 2am leg ultrasound for me and a busted blood vessel in my husband’s eye from the stress.  My husband tells me that when I fainted from panic on the 4 hour flight to Boston the next day, he took special notice of the halfway mark in the flight.  “At least there was no turning back,” he says, only half-jokingly.

Unfortunately, arriving in Boston alleviated the anxiety only temporarily.  As I neared the end of my pregnancy, I began having irrational, intrusive thoughts about my husband leaving me.  “He’s only staying until the baby is born,” the lies whispered, “he never wanted a baby anyway.”  I became increasingly irritable and emotional, and finally suffered enough to mention it to my OB, a high-risk, high-profile doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital.  With my mother in the room, I explained my heart palpitations and my trouble breathing.  I outlined my mood swings and my panic attacks.  It took every ounce of courage in my body to admit that I was struggling.

In return, she told me to “stop worrying.  Pregnancy is an emotional time.”

That was it.  We moved on to belly measurements and discussions of pain management during labor.

With only two sentences, she had me doubting my need for help. I suddenly “just wasn’t trying hard enough.”  And I believed her.

EMET Quote

Throughout the course of my first pregnancy, I saw 5 different OBs, 3 surgeons, 2 primary care physicians, and a myriad of nurses and techs.  None of them EVER asked about my emotional well-being, and when I did speak up for myself?  I was ignored.  Dismissed.  And the thing that angers me the most is that MGH has a world-renouned Center for Women’s Health, run in part by the incomparable Dr. Marlene Freeman, an expert in the field of pre and post-natal mood and anxiety disorders.  Sitting in my OB’s office, I was one elevator ride away from help.

Instead, it took me 5 months after my daughter was born – five months of intrusive thoughts about shaking my baby or letting her slip in the bath tub (I would like to emphasize here that intrusive thoughts are distinguished from psychosis by a mother’s ability to recognize the thoughts as scary) – five months of obsessively folding and lining up burp rags and matching bottle tops to bottle bottoms by shape and color – five months of rage and of falling apart behind the scenes before I recognized I needed help.

It’s hard for me to think back through that time because I find myself so ANGRY.  My struggle was preventable.  Avoidable.  Not once during or after my pregnancy was I asked about my emotional well-being.  A few simple questions and an honest conversation with a trusted doctor was all it would have taken.

It’s all it will take… because I am committed to getting new moms the help I didn’t receive.  We need mothers to be screened for antenatal and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.  Every mother.  Every time.

Please.  For me.  For my daughters.  Go sign this petition.  Then share this post, share the petition and help us make this go viral.

From the petition website:

Suicide is a leading cause of death for women during the first year after childbirth. 1 in 7 women will experience a mood or anxiety disorder during pregnancy or postpartum, yet nearly 50% remain untreated. In pregnancy, maternal mental illness negatively effects fetal development, and leads to adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight and premature delivery. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) can impair infant and early childhood cognitive and emotional development. Despite overwhelming empirical evidence, there is no universal mandate for care providers to screen pregnant and postpartum women for depression, anxiety, or family history of mental illness–a well established risk factor. Screen every mother, every time to prevent and treat perinatal mental illness.

If you can’t sign the petition, you can still help!  Spread the word!  Donate to Postpartum Progress!  Ask a new mom how she is REALLY doing.  We can each do something.

Click to Donate to Postpartum Progress

Click to Donate to Postpartum Progress

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