Saving Grace

Well into the afternoon, I felt the warm sun on my face, the air on my arms, the pull of muscles in my legs.  For the first time all day.

It took all day to get up, get moving, get dressed, fed.  And I only did it because the bus would be arriving at the end of our street, depositing two of mine I’d sent out into the world.  The littlest had been my only saving grace all day, tucked under my arm on the couch, smiling up at me.

Holding her hand, toddling down the street in the sunshine, I wondered if perhaps God sent me children to save me.

From myself.  From getting lost in the bottomless pit.

They haven’t made it easy.  Sometimes annoying and painful.  But they got me out into the sunshine yesterday – even if it was late in the afternoon.

This is My Bag

Jennifer Butler Basile

This is the closest I’ve gotten to Kate Spade.

A purse that may or may not even be an original piece.

I don’t know her.

Yet, when my husband told me yesterday the breaking news about her death, my mood instantly plummeted. I stared at the black and white text and felt the sobs come.

Not because I know her. In a cliched way, I know her pain. In a frightened animalistic way, I see how quickly I could become her.

Facebook friends who know mental illness posted their sadness and support at the news. Some hinted at public posts with ugly comments and sage advice given too late. But I don’t read comments – of the general population anyway – for my own mental health.

And then one of those comments wormed its way into a personal post I saw.

It was easy for me to lament that stigma was still alive and well, that we’ve so much farther to go, and how sad it is that people still think that way – when I hadn’t read the comments. And then I saw how alive and well stigma is, how much farther we’ve to go, and how scary it is how some people think.

To think that suicide is a choice. To think that those who have reached the point of contemplating suicide are doing so as part of a rational decision-making process. That they eschew their many blessings in life purposefully.

Suicide isn’t supposed to make sense. That’s the fucking point. The mind, the psyche is not working properly. Depression is replacing the authentic voice of self with lies.

You would think the fact that it strikes down even people with blessing piled upon blessing would make people realize that there is something more to suicide than horrible circumstance and selfish choice.

May God save us all.

Holiday Hangover

Is it Tuesday already?

It came as quite the shock this morning when I had to wake up and rouse myself and kids to face another school day.  The holiday weekend seemed much longer than three days, as if we’d all already slipped into summer mode.

The long weekend was some weird sort of stasis.  It was neither too long nor too short; not stupendous nor horrible.  It was good.  In the midst of PMS and prepping for my two-year-old’s birthday party, I managed to not lose my mind and then relax a bit and enjoy the rest of my weekend.

Yet, even though I cleared out a wood pile that had been lingering in the yard and set up my compost area; even though I cleared a garden bed and planted two long-waiting potted plants; even though I enjoyed laughing with my husband and girls as we ate our first outdoor ice cream of the season – my thoughts turned last eve to how it all may not have been real.

The fact that I survived and thrived may have been a fluke.  The fact that I managed to not only be productive, but enjoy it; that I could not only enjoy my children, but feel joy with them; the fact that I wasn’t overly irritable, low, or unmotivated – I couldn’t just be in these wonderful feelings.

As I looked to a return to routine, I wondered whether I’d fail on my own.  Without the buffer of helpers in the house, would I be overwhelmed with the task of caring for my little one?  Would I feel trapped without the option of another set of hands if I had to tend to a household task or take a moment for myself?  Would my mood plummet without the excitement of a holiday weekend and the drudgery of the everyday?

It is said that comparison is the thief of joy.  Depression is as well.  It’s also said depression is a liar.  It is.  It is telling me lies about how I may fail.  And anxiety is helping spool out its prophecies far into the future.

I may have reached a point where therapies and supplements are finally coming together for my success.  But I cannot trust that.  If I do, the bottom of what I wish for so vehemently may fall out from underneath me.  I may have just had a pretty great weekend.  But even that, I can’t enjoy.  Because I figure my balance is due and I must pay up at some point.

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iSpot.tv

I look forward to celebrating the holiday where the right treatment and my own ability to sit in and take a moment for what it is converge; where no thing is the thief of my joy.  That will be a true celebration.

A Lilac

I cannot see a lilac without catching out of the corner of my eye
the diaphanous flow of sheer sheeting of the same color.

The folds and waterfall of fabric enveloping my body like the ring of a bell,
smooth against the pop of buds bursting
into three-dimensional triads and quartets of color.

Green hearts gilded with the white patina of many moistured mornings,
a specimen grown gangly and sparse,
cut to the quick before flourishing in fullness once again.

Overtaking its age,
shooting up sprouts all around it,
expanding its perimeter.

It is the harbinger of spring,
of warmer days promised in the perfumed chill.

It is the talisman of youth,
of adventures in grandmother’s garden,
the boundary of Mr. Thompson’s yard,
the backdrop of moments frozen in time.

I cannot smell a lilac without being at once wistful and hopeful.

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image from Getty

The Mother of All Potatoes

I woke up Mother’s Day morning to an empty house.

I’d sent my kids away.  I’d made myself childless on the day meant to celebrate my being their mother (setting aside the original intent of Mother’s Day, of course).

I didn’t realize until it was too late that I’d robbed myself of the dry toast and tepid tea in bed.  I worried that I’d ruined my mother-in-law’s morning by inserting four raucous children.  I thought I’d gained a morning of sleeping in after a fun night out with friends – which was my top priority when babysitting became a possible overnight – but my eyes popped open inexplicably at 6:30 and I was up.

My husband and I had time to uninterruptedly discuss irritating things we’d been avoiding and got agitated. I worked uninterruptedly in the kitchen for almost five hours prepping the brunch to which I’d invited both our mothers, the muscles in my legs that didn’t get enough sleep twitching at me to sit down.

Still, I thought to myself, look at all you’re accomplishing without the children in the house.  This is taking a while without them here; imagine how much it would take with interruptions.  It actually boggled my mind that what I’d thought was a modest menu was taking so long to prep.  Another recent window into what realistic expectations actually are.  But I was doing it.  I wasn’t losing my mind.

And then, as I entered the final stretch, my husband asked about the potatoes.  The potatoes that needed to be scrubbed and chopped and roasted for a decent amount of time on which we were starting to run low.

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Jennifer Butler Basile

As I cleaved into the dense sweet potatoes, feeling the solid thunk of the blade on the board below, the irony did not escape me.  My quintessential metaphor for the struggle of motherhood, right there in front of me on Mother’s Day.  Why the hell was I chopping potatoes on the day already fraught with unrealistic and unfulfilled expectations, sorrow and disappointment, fete tinged with personal feelings of failure?  I just wanted a nice brunch for everyone and be done with it.  Not think – of the magnitude of motherhood and its struggle.

I didn’t let my husband prep the potatoes like I should have – from either a need to control the size of the dice or to see things through whole since I’d prepped every other dish.  But he’d taken over scrubbing the dishes for me – seeing firsthand what a PIA the caked-on pizza crust from two nights earlier was.

I didn’t go all out escapist as I cubed the potatoes as I may have one day.  But I acknowledged that I was stressed by a full morning without kids.  Which meant that I wasn’t just horrible at handling them and life; I needed to start expecting both less and more of myself.

The visceral memory of chopping potatoes may never go away, but this time it was a gentler reminder of checking my tension, setting (actually) realistic goals, asking for help; of actually voicing my needs and accepting the resultant offers of help.

We need to be as gentle with ourselves as we strive to be as mothers.

It’s Been A Week

I had a week.

Procrastinating.  Avoiding.  Yelling.  Screaming.  Swearing.  Crying.  In the kitchen.  On the bathroom floor.

I don’t know if it’s better or worse to be so self-aware that you can head into a trigger-happy event knowing that’s what it’s going to be.  Having been through similar high-stress events and knowing their effect on you, knowing this will be the same, what outcome to expect.

A few things happened differently this time, though.  There were moments imbued with a strange peace.   It was if I was able to step back and take those five minutes of stillness for what they were because I knew it was all I was going to get.  I also may have actually written realistic to-do lists.  Usually I have crumpled lists that guiltily glare at me for months following events I’ve hosted.  This time I think there was one item I didn’t check off.  One.  That’s a freaking miracle.

I still freaked out on the crazy-all-out-clean-like-a-chicken-with-its-head-cut-off day before.  I totally turtled the day before that when the sheer enormity of what I had to accomplish overwhelmed me.  I still scrubbed the toilets the morning of.  I still showered approximately 15 minutes before go-time.  I still lost my shit because I had lost control of my universe and was unable to do it all and certainly not perfectly.

But . . . but there is that glimmer of hope for high-stress events to come.  Perhaps I am finally learning to set realistic goals for what I can accomplish in a day.  Again, miracle.  Maybe I’m finally learning that scheduling something on the calendar – even something as simple as sewing a button on a shirt – ensures I’ll do it before it sits in a bag of projects to be done someday . . . that I then feel needs to be done before someone sees it in a corner on the day of the party.  And, wonder of all wonders, maybe I’m finally allowing myself to sit in a moment, outside of what was before or to be.

I mean, it was still a week.  This is no immediate or complete transfiguration.  If you saw me sniveling on the bathroom floor Saturday, you’d not see any indication of this change at all.  But there is hope.

There is always hope.

 

 

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And now after all that talk about crying – in the kitchen, on the floor . . . I have the Peg+Cat splashing in the bathroom song in my head.

Blackish Cloud of Depression

In October 2017, the maternal mental health world was atwitter with news that the TV sitcom, Blackish, was going to tackle postpartum depression in its storyline.  I, just like everyone else, was curious to see how it would be treated; however, I had not been watching the series.  Like the anal-retentive reader that I am, I knew I wouldn’t be able to watch except from the beginning, to get a full sense of the story, the setting, the characters.

I started binge-watching this winter during one of the multi-week stretches of snowstorms and flu-like symptoms.  I loved getting to know the Johnsons, seeing their story unfold.  As soon as Rainbow told Dre she was pregnant, though, I waited anxiously for the signs.  They didn’t come until the last episode of season three: Sprinkles.  A headache brought Bow into the doctor’s office and the train of preeclampsia rushed from the station.

As she lay on the operating table waiting for the anesthesia to kick in, Rainbow delivered the opening address of postpartum depression.  She may not have known it at the time, but she outlined many of the contributing factors of postpartum depression.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen like this.”

Unrealistic or unmet expectations

 

“I’m really good at this stuff. I’m a baby maker.”

High standards.  Betrayal or failure of body.

“This is not normal.

Doesn’t meet the ideal.

“I’m really scared.

Fear.  Anxiety.

What if something goes wrong?”

Ruminating.  Irrational fears or worries.

While her blood pressure began to decrease immediately following the baby’s delivery, Rainbow couldn’t hold her baby.  He’s whisked away to NICU while she’s anchored to the operating table.  Go with him, she pleaded with Dre; someone needs to be with our baby.

Dre had his own emotional trauma surrounding the birth.  The doctor intimated that their first priority in cases such as Bow’s is to save the mother, introducing the concept of maternal or fetal mortality.  Trying to anchor his wife in this unexpected development was complicated tenfold by the possibility of losing one or both of his loved ones.  Even when the baby was successfully delivered, he confessed to his father that he’s afraid to love him in the event that something horrible happens to him.

Sprinkles isn’t even the postpartum episode.  But even if I didn’t have the spoilers I did, the writers did a phenomenal job foreshadowing the struggles to come.  As was my own experience with postpartum depression, a perfect storm of conditions converged and they’re laid out in a nuanced and real, respectful manner.

I’d had a long day yesterday and needed to decompress at the end of it.  I knew I was staying up far too late for my level of exhaustion, but needed to unwind.  As I sat there, solitary, sobbing, as the rest of my family slept, I thought, well that didn’t work.  But then, I remembered the date:  May 2, World Maternal Mental Health Day.  How very fitting that I finally happened upon the postpartum part of the Blackish story on this of all days.  This story stirred the very raw emotions of my own experience because it was so eloquently treated – and the story is just beginning.

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IMDb

Maternal Mental Health Week 2018

Starting yesterday, April 30, and running through Friday, May 4, the maternal mental health community celebrates and spreads awareness of the illnesses affecting women and mothers.

Did you know?

Created by Jennifer Butler Basile with info from thebluedotproject.org

1 in 5. That means we all know someone whose mental health has or is suffering – and yet we may not know it.

#AskHer

Ask a mom you know – each and every mom you know – how she is doing: the pregnant mom, the grieving mom, the new mom, the fourth trimester and beyond mom.

Your question may be the first in a line of interventions needed to get her back to herself. Other points on the line may be her child’s pediatrician, her primary care physician or ob/gyn, a therapist, and/or organizations like Postpartum Support International and The Blue Dot Project.

You can help her start her journey. You can help her see she’s not alone.

The push is on this week. The hashtags are on fire these five days. But the struggle is real everyday.

What Tully is Really About

When I saw the first trailer for Tully a few months ago, I was excited.  A full-length feature film that portrayed the real story of new motherhood?  The heartache, the frustration, the despair?  I was ready to book my mom’s night out right then.

 

What Tully is not about – or only part of the picture

 

But something stayed my hand from hitting the share button.  Even in a thirty second promo, her night nurse seemed too good to be true.  How could she possibly say the right thing at the exact right time every single time?  And do it all with the Zen voice of a life coach?  Or not even.  Like a lover trying to woo Charlize Theron’s character, Marlo.  I wasn’t sure what, but something was off.

A few days later, a fellow maternal mental health advocate sounded the alarm.  Read Graeme Seabrook’s take here.  More problems arose as the days went on, though.  Apparently, Tully is not just a flawed character; she does not exist at all.  She is entirely a creation of Marlo’s mind.  No wonder she was too good to be true.

In the film, Marlo apparently does receive a diagnosis of postpartum depression.  The plot does admit that her behavior and experience are not ‘normal’.  She does suffer from a condition of mental illness – except postpartum depression is not what it is.  Marlo suffers from postpartum psychosis.

As explained in a recent HuffPost article on the subject:

Postpartum depression is characterized by feelings of anger, irritability, guilt, shame, hopelessness, and sadness, but delusions, strange beliefs and hallucinations are symptoms more in line with a diagnosis of postpartum psychosis, as are cases of infanticide, according to Postpartum Support International (PSI).

The fact that the extreme separate reality Marlo has created is attributed to postpartum depression is dangerous.  If we take this film at face value, which many viewers will if they have no experience with maternal mental health, two things may happen.  One, women who do not have hallucinations will not seek help because they don’t feel they’re that bad.  Two, women who do not have hallucinations but suffer from debilitating depression (or anxiety or OCD) will be seen as mothers who will harm their children.  Women are already afraid to seek out the help they so desperately need when suffering from maternal mental health issues.  If they also have to fear being deemed unfit to care for their children, they will even less likely to obtain and benefit from treatment.

Society already sees every mother with postpartum depression as one with those who desperately drown their children.  As recently as this January, police were called to a California emergency room when a mother requested help for postpartum mental health concerns.  There is enough stigma to fight without movies like Tully perpetuating myths and muddying the water advocates fight daily to clear.

A star-powered film in mainstream cinema has tremendous potential to slay such myths and spread awareness.  What a squandered opportunity.  Many mental health advocates are asking, why didn’t they ask us?  If only Jason Reitman or Diablo Cody had consulted professionals and organizations for the full picture.  But honestly, I don’t think the Hollywood players working on this film are concerned with the women who will come to this movie looking for a funny cathartic look at their real life, but instead get sneak-attack triggered by the surprise turn of events.  They are more concerned with plot; with a compelling, unexpected story.  They are dealing with fictional characters, after all.  Except that they have failed to take into account the devastating effect their largest imaginary character will have on their very real viewers.

Even writers of fiction must research their topic, their time period.  Even in fiction, world-building must be believable.  Egregious errors ruin the integrity of the world, the characters, the entire experience.  Not only did those responsible for Tully fail sufferers and survivors of maternal mental illness, but the standards of good writing as well.

From the moment this film was named, it took power away from mothers – the very first being Marlo.  It’s not her story.  It becomes the story of her illness.  Maternal mental illness does overshadow the mother in its darkest depths.  But it does not define the woman.  The most compelling part of the story should be the journey out of those depths.  A mother’s eventual triumph, not her despair.  Tully totally misses that.

 


Another great discussion of the film from Motherly here

Shock and Awe

I’ve saved every blank book I ever filled – from the first hardbound, mottled watercolor cover to the psychedelic smiley faces.  All but the most recent sit high upon a shelf, my own little archive of embarrassing moments.

Every so often – when I have to move my collection from point a to point b, when I’m feeling nostalgic, or looking for a particular passage – I’ll skim the pages and revisit my words, my state of being at that point in time.  Sometimes the words are merely confessional, the quintessential catharsis for which we all count on ‘dear diary’.  Sometimes the paragraphs give way to great insight.  Sometimes, I read a passage that takes my breath away, that makes me flush with the way the words are crafted, the beauty and power of their make-up.  I crafted such quality?  My God, I really can write.  And then I find the author’s attribute, my little indent and dash noting the actual author’s name.  Drat.  Foiled again.

Though even in that moment just before I discover the author’s name, as I still unbelievingly read ‘my words’, it’s not a self-congratulatory moment.  There’s always a shock and awe involved.  A pinch-myself moment where I get a glimpse of the holy grail of writing.  Is it really possible?  For me?  By me?

But then, a few months ago, out of the blue, my aunt asked me what were some of the favorite things I’d written on this blog.  A few irreverent attempts at humor came to mind; the inaugural post explaining what all these potatoes are, of course.  When I actually dove into the blog to review, I realized just how much writing I’ve done on here.  Lots to sift through!  And lots to reorganize, I realized (so I – and hopefully you – can find it all).

A day or so later, I received an email from that same aunt with a link to a video.  A marketing and public relations professional by trade, she’d been working with a new platform and wanted to share it with me.  I clicked, eager to see what she’d created.  Striking images flowed across the screen, dovetailing each other seamlessly.  Sentences strung together over them told a story.

It wasn’t until nearly halfway through the video that I realized they were my words.

The same shock and awe that usually came over me as I read evocative passages in my journals occurred – only this time, it was I who had penned the words.  The shock and awe were accompanied by gratification.  And a little disbelief.  My journal dreams may yet come true.

 

The video that started it all . . .

 

Thanks to Janet Crook for helping me visualize in more ways than one.

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