Mind Over Water

Treading water only lasts so long

At some point,
the pull of the boat or dock or shore
becomes too much

The edge of exhaustion creeps up
The doubt of how much longer the legs and arms can cycle,

When will the muscles or lungs give out?

The hand must be able to reach out –

To grasp the solid surface
To heave the dead weight up and out of the abyss.

Unless you decide to float

To rest your head in line with the water,
Arch your back toward the sky
Let your hands and feet sway like seaweed

Rest and freedom come with this release
But also require relinquish of control:

The moment your ears slip below the surface,
Deadening the sound of the world above,
Open only to the gentle sloshing below

The origin of your breath so close to submersion
Your lungs expanding above and below the water
Your bottom threatening to pull it all under.

Possible panic in action and inaction
All at the thin line where the water meets the air

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Summer Rules

When one’s life is taken up with caring for others, there constantly seems to be a waiting period.  Once they finish school, things will relax.  Once we get through these end of the year activities, summer can begin.  And then you get through those things and life is neither relaxed nor does quintessential summer seem to have begun.

Our first day was glorious.  Bodies still primed to wake up fairly early, we – all but one sleepyhead – rose and readied for the beach.  There was also the excitement of sleepyhead’s birthday, complete with a special outing in the evening.

Then reality set in.

My idea of a relaxing morning is very different from theirs.  An unhurried cup of hot tea vs unfettered screen time to the tune of annoying sound bites run on repeat.

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thirtyhandmadedays.com

I reinstituted the regimen of last summer – to their chagrin.  The Summer Rules.  Their list of required tasks before electronic devices can be had.

The first day, they attacked the list with gusto, feeling accomplished as well as determined for the end goal.  That did not last.  By Day Three, it had become a fight.  With them doing the work-around of school computers to practice math and then access Pinterest or music.  Or doing the bare minimum or doubling up on chores.

It had become something else for me to do – policing them – instead of a way to occupy their bodies and minds other than electronically.  And once they earned their screen time, they seemed to devour it like addicts for the rest of the day, which to me, defeated the very purpose of keeping them away.  However, they’d probably be like that all day if not for the list.

Our rules need some tweaks, some personalization for our family.  ‘Helping others’ doesn’t speak to the actual chores they’re responsible for each day.  ‘Clean up one room’ is pretty vague, though they actually vacuumed their room one morning.  But having a list at all is a lot less vague than me walking around angry because all they do is stare at their screens.

Without structure, all life would be a waiting period – waiting for something to happen.  So our Summer Rules provide some structure to our days – even if they infuriate all of us to a certain degree.

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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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.

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