I see me in you

Saw an old friend yesterday. He made an offhanded comment about his mother yelling at him from heaven for walking on wet grass in white socks. His mom died of cancer a few years ago. He really loved her.

In the car later, I told my husband that I feel bad for our friend. I actually said, “If there is any holiday that’s going to make you miss your mother, it’s Passover.”

My husband asked me if we were still talking about our friend.

Why could I connect the dots of his pain so clearly? While mine were still stuck in a rorschach ink spill.

I spent much of my life trying to be emotionally self-sufficient. I learned that needing emotional validation was a weakness. Yet, I gain so much comfort from reading other blogs and books. The feeling of “me too” is so powerful. Someone told me once that we read stories to understand ourselves. Maybe in hearing eachother’s words, we can finally see ourselves.

One of the most powerful effects of group therapy (both in person and through online portals) has been the opportunity to feel empathy and worthiness for others and thereby for myself.

I remember sitting in a room full of other mothers and their new babies. They each spoke of their feelings of worthlessness and despair. But I could see them each as beautiful women who were deserving of love and belonging. I could see their worth but not my own.

When I read Brooke Shields’ book Down Came the Rain, on her experience with postpartum depression, I could see parts of myself that I didn’t know were there. She wrote about how hideously ugly she felt. I thought that if someone so clearly beautiful could feel that, perhaps I wasn’t actually as hideous as I felt either.

So, to all of my dear friends who are locked in a struggle with your own broken brains… I hear you. I am writing so that you and I can both read these words and try to make sense of where we are.

We are not alone. We feel alone but we are here to catch eachother and to write letters to eachother that allow us each to see ourselves and love ourselves.

I love you all so much.

"The Delivery" by Amanda Greavette
“The Delivery” by Amanda Greavette

She is not me

“Dear Diary, Have you ever had a day when you feel like you were never born? Well that’s sort of what I felt like.” -This is an excerpt from a diary I kept when I was 8 years old. (8 years old!)

My daughter is almost 6 years old. That’s dangerously close to 8 years old. …but she is not me.

I remember when she was 3 days old, I left her in the living room with my mother because I was forced to take a nap in my bedroom. I remember lying there alone and wondering if I still existed or if maybe I was my baby daughter now.  That little baby who I put on my bare chest the moment she came out of my body- so that she wouldn’t feel lost. That little baby who I was scared to take out of my sling, to let out of my sight – lest she feel abandoned. I was so scared that if I was not touching her, we would both cease to exist. I actually convinced myself that she could somehow hear my heartbeat through the walls. It was the only way for me to tolerate being in the other room. If I had to pinpoint when I should have noticed that something was ‘off’, I think it was this moment, when she was 3 days old. (I didn’t get help for another 11 months…)

I still struggle with feeling like my daughter and I are somehow telepathically connected. Last night I was reminded that my daughter has her own secrets, her own internal life that she keeps to herself, as she should.

Last night I realized that she has been asking me to tuck her in with her blanket over her nose and not calling me in after I say goodnight – because she is secretly sucking her thumb. *shocking*. Not really shocking. It actually makes lots of sense. She is almost 6 years old. Of course she is an individual with her own internal private world.  But feeling so tied to my daughter, it’s hard to understand that her secret world could be anything other than one of confusion, fear and pain.

The fears I had when I was her age are not her fears. I know that this is true. This must be true. The family I lived in, the world I knew, it is not her world. I have worked too hard to make sure that life is different for her. But then, I see that her fears include one of my daily deepest fears. The fear of “getting caught”. She probably doesn’t feel it as strongly as I did- I felt it every moment of every day. Maybe she isn’t even afraid, she was just being clever. I really don’t know.

I say my daughter.  She is not me and she is not mine, she is her own. She needs to continue to separate from me and I need to enable her do that. My role is to keep my arms open to catch her when she needs it and let her take reasonable and safe risks as she explores the world for herself.

6 years old. 6 years old is time for more independent activities, more space for herself, more unsupervised playtime. It’s time for summer camp.

But I fear. I fear that if I am not watching, if the teenage camp counselors are not paying attention, she may cease to exist. I have to clarify this. The fear is not only that she will die, it’s that she will cease to exist. I will drop her off one morning and when I come to pick her up the counselors will say “Soni? Soni who?” and that will be that. I will have to go home without her and try to understand that she was never real.

This is my own annihilation anxiety. I am projecting it onto her and I need to stop. It comes from a very real place where I used to live and feel that I would randomly become invisible. This is not my daughter’s world and it is no longer my world either.

I am not her. She is not me.

photo from my diary

Sisterhood of the crazy pants

I’m always thinking about the mamas who are in the crazy pot with me. Over the last two years, I have met many women (online and in real life) who have followed the same path as me from a seemingly good childhood (peppered with trauma) ⇒ youth depression/anxiety that persists (often untreated) ⇒ postpartum depression ⇒ bipolar 2.  Needless to say, it’s not a path to anywhere good. (and oddly, many of us were born in September…just saying)

The problem with this crazy pot is that even though we are all boiling in similar stinky broth, part of the illness is that we are each stuck in our own pot. We are fighting similar enemies but in the never-ending final battle, we are each completely on our own.

There’s a Broadway play called Next to Normal that I’m recently obsessed with (like actually obsessed, certifiably). It’s about: “a mother who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder and the effect that her illness and the attempts to alleviate it have on her family.” ahhem…

It’s a musical (because, why not?). One of the key songs that the mother sings really captures some of the horror of living with bipolar (as much as one can in a rock musical).

I have a vision of making a video of my fellow mamas and I performing this on a theater stage.

Think 5 women staggered across a huge black stage standing on individual black risers under separate spotlights. But then towards the end, maybe we start walking closer and end up back to back united. I think that there would be power in all of us singing together against a common enemy.

But truly, it wouldn’t be very accurate. In real life, we would continue singing on our own separated boxes. Just like we do right now. We trade war-stories, we share strategies that seem to work, we learn that we are “not the only freaks in town“. But in the end, we face our demons alone. Time will tell if the sisterhood can save us and our children. I am oddly optimistic.

I’ve divied up the parts as I see them:
Rehersals start Thursday. Start learning your lines ladies.

#1: Do you wake up in the morning and need help to lift your head?
#2: Do you read obituaries and feel jealous of the dead?
#3: It’s like living on a cliffside not knowing when you’ll dive.
#1,2,3: Do you know? Do you know what it’s like to die alive?

#4: When a world that once had colour fades to white and grey and black
#5: When tomorrow terrifies you but you’ll die if you look back
#1,3,4: You don’t know the things you don’t know
#2,5: You say that you’re hurting – it sure doesn’t show
#2,4,5: You don’t know it lays me so low
#1,3: When you say let go and I say
#1,2,3,4,5: You don’t know!

#4: The sensation that you’re screaming but you never make a sound.
#5: Or the feeling that you’re falling but you never hit the ground.
#1: It just keeps on coming at you day by day
#1,4,5: by day by day

#2,3: You don’t know, You don’t know what it’s like to live that way!

#2: Like a refugee, a fugitive, forever on the run
#3: If it gets me it will kill me
#2,3: But I don’t know what I’ve done!

Here is the original Broadway cast in a Tony performance of this song:

 

This song from the play hits home too (and makes me laugh):

 

Erasing the past… it’s not working

I thought it would be easy to kill her.

I thought that I could just cut the cord, redirect my domain, create a new email address, and she would disappear. It would be like she was never even there. Like she was never vital to me. But we are too closely linked. and I miss her.

As much as I want to forget it, she was there. I was there. I will always have been there. I need to close a chapter in my life but I’m not sure how. I wish I could just burn the book.

I wouldn’t be where I am today if my yesterdays had been different. I’m not sure if this makes it worth it or not. But I deeply want to be done with this struggle. I want to push away from identifying myself with this crazy. I feel more stable than I have in years. I don’t want to be the “crazy” anymore. I don’t want to need “crazy” friends to validate and inspire me.

In my darkest times, postpartum moms that I met online were a lifeline for me. I’m still in touch with most of them through facebook and blogs. Several of them, like me, found that the postpartum depression was a gift that just kept giving. And now this gift of chaos has a shiny new name, Bipolar II.

But now our ‘postpartum babies’ are getting older. (My kids are both in full day kindergarten.) Shouldn’t I be over this already? I’m clearly no longer a mom struggling with postpartum depression. But everytime I look at my facebook feed, I can’t escape it.

Today, my brain isn’t constantly reminding me that it’s broken, so I don’t really want my facebook to remind me either. Because it’s scary. And it’s sad. And now that I can (usually) feel some emotions, I don’t like to read things that make me feel scared and sad.

My doctor told me that the most dangerous part of bipolar is that once you feel stable (with the help of medications and hard work), you start to question whether or not you are cured. You question if you ever really even were sick and you stop taking your meds. Then you crash…

I just want a break from over-thinking everything. A break from having to force myself to bed early without exception. A break from having to always remember that these demons are sewn into my skin. I can try to forget but that doesn’t make them go away.

The past still haunts me (though less intensely today) and when I think about Lyla, I remember that despite my best efforts, my future is a frightening question mark. It would just be too easy for me to destroy the life that I have built, to hurt everyone that I love. It is always there, lurking in the shadows, waiting til my guard is down.

Tell me it’s not true. Say I only dreamed it. Say it’s just a scene from an old movie of years ago. (Blood Brothers)

Can I please just pretend that the suffering of the last five years was not real? Can I pretend that the suffering of the last 30 was fabricated?

No?

Box of tea called "Erase your past"

Making love to big pharma

Yesterday I did something super stupid. Like so stupid it’s really funny.

I was trying a new recipe for making a week’s worth of baking soda shampoo and apple cider vinegar conditioner (obviously). It said to mix a tablespoon of each with a cup of hot water (separately) in two squeeze bottles and shake. So, I put the kettle on, took out two glass jars and mixed away. But when I picked up the jars to shake, they were really hot (because they were full of boiling water). So, I wrapped them in a cloth, shook them and carried them to the shower with me.

Then, I got into the shower and got ready to wash my hair. But the baking soda shampoo bottle was still too hot to hold so I held it carefully by the rim of the jar and proceeded to pour boiling water over my head. I’m such a friggin idiot.

(I probably shouldn’t tell you that I proceeded to do the same thing a few minutes later with the ACV conditioner thinking that it had cooled off enough.)

So now that we have established that I am someone who always looks for alternative remedies, I have to say that I feel an immense gratitude today to Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca.

Now I know lots of people have a lot of problems with ‘big pharma’ and there are many legitimate complaints. But these three companies, together, are saving my life. Not saving, giving – they are giving me a life. They are giving me back myself.

Sometimes I doubt that I really need these medications. But recent experiences have proven to me their worth.

A few months ago I added a microdose of 5 mg of Seroquel to my daily cocktail (of Lamotrigine and Zoloft) and it has made a huge huge difference in my ability to think clearly without knocking me out entirely (like the higher doses did).  Then we started bringing the Zoloft down from 45 mg by 5 mg increments because we weren’t sure if it was adding anything and my doctor didn’t want me on too many different meds. I was feeling great and functioning really well (relatively) for a while. But I guess we went a bit too far down with the Zoloft. So after a few weeks of really bad rage, anxiety and a bucket of tears (mostly mine), I added another 5 mg of Zoloft each day and – wow! Huge difference.

This weekend, I was able to do fun things with my kids and breath at the same time. My son was feeling safe with me and I was able to be there for him. My daughter told me that I was doing a great job not losing my patience (which still makes me sad...). And last night, my husband put his head on my shoulder. These people are the yardstick that tells me how I’m doing.

So, I know that these medications are not right for everyone, and I think that they are over-prescribed and poorly monitored too often. And maybe these companies are exploiting the sick for financial gain or not acting ethically.  But right now, they are saving me. They are giving my children a mother. And for that, I want to say thank you for every single person who works at all of these huge mega conglomerate faceless companies. Thank you.

Thank you to the scientists for developing Zoloft (Pfizer), Lamotrigine (GlaxoSmithKline), and Seroquel (AstraZeneca). Thank you to the research study coordinators for getting these medications approved and making sure that they are safe (enough) for me. Thank you to the project managers and others who made it possible for me to get these medications in Canada. Thank you to the insurance company that pays over $200 each month to buy me these pills. Thank you to the Canadian health care system for giving me free access to a highly qualified psychiatrist who specializes in helping (and balancing medication for) women in the postpartum period.

Thank you to my husband for hanging on while I sort this shit out. And thanks for not minding while I give these companies blow jobs.

Love you. xoxo

 

addendum: 

I had lunch with my sister today and she commented that my hair looked particularly soft. Then I told her about my burnt scalp experiment and she was like “okay, I’m going to do that tonight – but I’ll let the water cool off first”. Then she said, “So I put one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and one tablespoon of baking soda and mix them together with a cup of hot water?” And I was like, “That will make a volcano on your head.” (I think the smarts run in my family.)

There is a voice inside of you that whispers all day long... poem by Shel Silverstein