I’m Baaack

I remember peeling off the cocoon of my bulky winter jacket one of the first times I came here.

Perching nervously on the edge of one of these same chairs.

Feeling completely vulnerable and exposed.

Wanting desperately for someone to mold me back together – yet not touch me.  Not look at me.  Not judge me.

For my weaknesses, my failures, my inability to just be.

It’s been awhile.  But I’m back.  And so are all the same feelings.

All Sorts of Bombs

The hours that stretched between late afternoon and evening yesterday were tough.

I hustled my three girls off the bus and into the car, rushing off into the next installment of the ‘passport debacle’ (I may pen a frustrating short story of the same title). They were tired, hot, sticky, hungry, and probably would’ve had to pee if they weren’t so dehydrated from the high temperatures. After toting them through two venues and experiencing botched passport attempts (adding to the overall debacle), they hooted and hollered, spat and pinched the whole ride home. Home. The place where I got to give my husband a quick smooch, eat a hamburger right off the grill as I set the table for the sit-down dinner the rest of my family would be enjoying while I rushed off to a curriculum night at the school. School. The place that was boarded up tight because the curriculum night is, in fact, tonight. I got back in the car and thanked my lucky stars that I’d loaded Led Zeppelin II in the CD player so I wouldn’t go out of my ever-living mind. I promptly popped a bottle of beer when I got home and joined my husband on the porch. Trying to recount my frustration and agitation to him, I was repeatedly interrupted by our cherubs, one of whom snagged a butterfly net over my cranium, God bless her.

In a rare moment of calm, I said to him, life would be so much easier if we hadn’t had them.

That’s one of those statements you know you probably shouldn’t say out loud; that you know was a mistake as soon as you see your spouse’s face.

In his ever-present magnamity in the face of my melancholy, he replied, but we wouldn’t have the joy, either.

I know, you’re right, I sheepishly yet grudgingly replied. Still, my days the last week or so have been fine – until I have to get them off the bus.

And then – not with a lightning bolt, but with a gradual blossoming like a-bomb footage on slow mo – I realized that I’d have had depression anyway – with or without them. If left to my own devices, depression would’ve snuck in in the quiet moments, seeped through the cracks of career dissatisfaction, cycles of stress and PMS, self-loathing and pity.

abomb

Life with three little people is insane. It would be so easy to pin my struggles on them. It’s hard to see anything else, to even draw a spare breath. And the tenor of my life with them did seem to kickstart whatever this alternate mental atmosphere I’m living in is – but in that one absurdly clear and dissonant moment, I saw my struggle, my illness, my self for what it is.

That doesn’t make it any easier to raise three littles in the midst of all that. But it makes it easier not to resent them and their needs. And to love myself – faults and all.

I could’ve danced talked all night

wpid-wp-1440692157183.jpgThe universe works in mysterious ways.

There’s a reason for cliches such as this.  In ways unexplained, people and circumstances are drawn together.  In an affinity, a warm, glowing feeling that spreads with seemingly no foundation, conversations click, relationships made, journeys continued before we’d even realized they’d begun.

One such journey began in 2012, though I was not yet aware.  As I typed the first tentative strokes birthing my blog in January of that year, Charlotte of Momaste went about her business a few mere miles down the road.  One day seven months later, in a burst of breastfeeding genius, her blog was born.  About a year later, I discovered the light and love and unabashed truth of her blog when its SPOT-ON post, Touched Out, was Freshly Pressed.  She gave voice to the heretofore dysfunctional and guilt-inducing tendencies I’d been seeing in myself as a mother.  I’d found a kindred spirit.

Depression – postpartum and otherwise.  Anxiety.  Mindfulness.  Breastfeeding.  Trying to balance selfhood with motherhood.  Yoga.  Puns.  Writing.  So many connections.

And then she posted a picture of the view from the end of her street.  And I saw the same bay I could see out the window of the house I’d started my family in and just recently vacated; the same one, admittedly, I had an imperfect view of, too, but still reveled in mentioning.  Not only were we from the same state, we been living in nearly the same zip code.

I felt even more of a kinship.  I had a scaffold in which to place her ruminations and observations; a visual schema her scenes unfolded against, even if I wasn’t on the exact street.

We bandied about the idea of meeting for quite some time.  Fellow bloggers can attest to the feelings of friendship engendered by genuine, heartfelt comments and the uncanny ability to pin pieces of your own gray matter on their own sites.  Still, with our young families, no concrete sense of who each other was, and both suffering from anxiety and possible cases of social awkwardness, the time never presented itself, nor was never found, to meet.

Then I registered for a conference in Boston for survivors of postpartum depression.  The excitement leading up to the real-time introductions at the conference led to whole lots of conferring online beforehand.  If strangers were becoming friends for that, why not my other ppmad peeps?  I reached out to Charlotte and floated the idea of traveling to Boston for the conference.  That plan didn’t hash out either, but it created a real impetus for our meeting irl, as they say, which finally happened yesterday.

The thoughts going through my head as I drove to meet her were akin to what I’d imagine if I were in an episode of Catfish.  My ten year-old daughter, in an annoying yet pride-provoking manner, had pointed out that there are dangerous people on the internet, you know.  My mother relayed the message that my grandmother was very nervous and didn’t want me to go.  I said I highly doubted this woman would turn out to be a 47 year-old male axe-murderer – not for the sake of a blog meet-up.  Charlotte and I did do the awkward blind date eye-contact, avoidance, cut through the coffee house, then back out onto the deck greeting.  She affirmed that yes, she was not a man and no, she did not think a 47 year-old axe-murdered would go to so much trouble writing blog posts to lure in a victim – particularly ones about breastfeeding.

That was the first of many laughs on this my first blind date with my first online friend meeting in the flesh.

We swapped stories about our kids, our spouses, our writing, our work, our struggles, disappointments, triumphs, and joys.  Most rewardingly, we shared the same space – psychically and emotionally.  The whole simpatico thing worked in person as well as it did online.  While our stories differed in their twists and turns, we got it.  There are as many differences as similarities, but we respect the journey each of us is on and support each other.

When Charlotte checked whether it was time to pick up her daughter, I realized I’d lost all track of it.  While nearly two hours had spooled away, it felt as if we’d just started our conversation.  I experienced almost the same feelings I’ve had when I realize I haven’t caught a friend up on the crush of things that’ve happened since our last visit – even though we face the stretch of time before our next one.  And we had to get caught up from the beginning!

But there’s always the next cup of tea – or chai in this case (to which I will have to add copious amounts of milk if we visit the same place as it was mighty strong).  There’s time for friendships to grow – online and in real time.  And there’s the universe – that has already proven it’s got our backs in bringing us together.

Momaste, Charlotte: the mom in me so bows to the mom – and lovely human – in you.

The Future of Fenway

The last time I was at a Red Sox game was pre-kids.  Pre-worrying-about-someone-else’s-bladder-but-mine.  Pre-stuffing-vibrating-little-bodies-into-ridiculously-small-sweaty-seats.

The excitement was still there.  The awe of the gate rising above Yawkey Way.  The hum of my soul resounding with the rest of Red Sox Nation.

image

Jennifer Butler Basile

New sensations?

The abject terror of someone sweeping my child away in the crowd.  The overwhelming desire to wrap my arms around them like a mama bird with her brood.  Irritation when they wouldn’t hold my hand.  Impatience when they didn’t read my mental directions on how to navigate the milling crowds.

This was my first time leading my babies through the big city.  I’d done it myself plenty of times, but leading literal babes through the woods was a new and disconcerting experience.

It also offered many teachable moments.

Telling my ten year-old how to keep her bag close.  Telling my five year-old who insisted on bringing my old flip phone with no service not to set it down anywhere.  Telling my eight year-old not to wave her mini Dominican flag celebrating the retirement of Pedro Martinez’ jersey dangerously close to fellow fans’ heads.

But also, what a bull pen is.  A foul line.  Tagging bases.  Striking out.  How to do the wave.

And it was a way to rediscover the magic of rooting for the Red Sox through my children’s eyes.  Seeing the spark when they realize that the guy at the plate right now is Big Papi in the flesh.  Sharing the excitement of singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ at the top of our lungs.  Chanting ‘Let’s go, Red Sox’ in unison.

The Sox may have lost the game, but we’re still a nation of believers.  And we may have just clinched the next generation of die-hards.  New Englanders live and breathe for their team – whether it’s 1918, 2004, or any year in between.

And that’s worth the whole gamut of sensations that comes with.

This Ain’t Any Ol’ Con

So I am living the hipster life. Typing on a table so repurposedly wonky my laptop rocks back and forth disconcertingly. In sun-dappled shade as I wait to sip my freshly prepared cafe mocha and eat my just warmed vegetable quiche.

Jennifer Butler Basile

Jennifer Butler Basile

It’s delicious.

All of it.

The flaky crust. The gooey egg. The sugary froth. The warm breeze.

The ability to notice such details as the vaguely distant whoosh of traffic. The inability to safeguard little people.

I can’t.

They’re not here.

I am alone.

Which, even though it was an acupuncture appointment I had this morning, was blessedly just what the doctor ordered.

I’m at the back-end of a weekend packed with emotionally-charged, mentally-draining conference work.

The Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom Conference.

Lest you get the wrong impression, I enjoyed this conference immensely.

I so looked forward to connecting with fellow survivors of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (commonly lumped together and referred to as postpartum depression). I expected to commiserate and trade war stories. I expected to get amazing fuel and ammo for advocacy – a role into which I thought I’d fully transitioned.

I did not expect to be so completely enveloped by the emotions I thought I’d left behind.

All throughout the first day of workshops, panels, and speakers, I teared up and misted over when particularly poignant points were made. But I was good. While I still danced with depression and angled around anxiety on random occasions of my everyday life, my period of postpartum depression was done.

And then, on the second day of the conference, Annette Cycon of MotherWoman got up to talk. As she described what transpired after an inexplicable bout of rage during her two young daughters’ bath time, my grief bubbled up and out of my body.

“I went into my bedroom and curled into the fetal position on the floor. I held my head, rocked back and forth, and sobbed. I said, ‘It’s either homicide or suicide – and I can’t do either. I love myself too much. And I love them too much.’”

Hearing this raw account, I sobbed. My face contorted into the grimace of one silently choking back tears. My shoulders shook. I experienced this incredibly intimate moment of grief in the midst of a room full of mothers. I felt so incredibly alone and yet dreaded anyone noticing and reaching out to me.

And yet, I wasn’t embarrassed.

There was no need.

I was in a room full of women, mothers who, while their own grief/rage/depression/disappointment/detachment/love/mania/compulsion manifested itself differently, had all been at the bottom of their own deep, dark hole. They were all at various footholds on their way back up and out, or sliding down and scrambling for a hand to hold – to stop them – to stop the pain, the agony – to spark the love they needed to feel for themselves and their children.

I may not have expected to awaken the grief, guilt, shame, and pain I thought I’d left behind – and apparently only buried – but I also didn’t expect to find a tribe of mothers instantly and deeply connected by their shared experience. And that was such a life-giving and validating surprise.

Soon, I will have to leave my empty coffee cup and the flaky crumbs of quiche crust behind. Soon, I will have to stop pretending I am an unencumbered hipster who can write alfresco for hours. Soon, I will collect my children and return home to our ‘normal’ lives, our harried routine, my possibly high levels of anxiety and masked depression.

But there will be hugs around the neck and hearty belly laughs. And there will always, always be my tribe of warrior mamas who’ve got my back.

Stuff We All Get

When I got married, I inherited a staggering amount of pharmaceutical office supplies. Some women marry into wealth. Some women carry a substantial dowry; others, a hope chest full of handmade linens and needlework. I got a cardboard box full of sticky note pads and ball point pens bearing the name of brand-name drugs. A distant cousin on my husband’s paternal side, a salesman for a pharmaceutical company, had a wealth of such products himself, to which I was now a party.

Not one to turn up my nose at anything free, I welcomed this surfeit of stationery. The pen on a lanyard came in handy as I made circuits around my classroom – not only did hanging it about my neck ensure I didn’t lose it, but the big block letters emblazoned along the side. You found an Androgel pen, you say? That’s mine. Unless there was another twenty-something female teacher with stock in Androgel, there was no doubt who the pen’s rightful owner was.

However, this example also illustrates one of the disadvantages of pharmaceutical swag. Your use of said promotional product could be construed as endorsement of said drug.

This wasn’t a problem with the note cube advertising Flonase. Nasal congestion and seasonal allergies don’t carry much of a stigma with them. No one cares if your nose is running or you’re snorting floral scented mist up it. Same with the cute little calculator whose flip-top lid schilled for blood pressure medication. No one will judge me for the inner cleanliness of my arteries.

But I always thought of my audience when I wrote a note on the Wellbutrin pad.

I didn’t want anyone to think that I actually needed an antidepressant; that I was such a frequent flier, I’d earned promotional prizes; that the ‘dealer’ and I were such good buds, I got benefits.

Forget that it doesn’t work that way. It’s not like filling the card of stamps at the grocery store of yore to earn a full set of ceramic dishware. One doesn’t get a sticker for each pill ingested. But I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea . . . whatever that meant.

Fast-forward nine years and I’d be fighting my own internal battle with stigma as I debated whether to go on low-level sertraline while I battled postpartum depression. I did. Don’t know which side of stigma won, but I started on the meds I’m still on today.

Today.

The day irony served me a big slap in the face.

The day my physician suggested I add Wellbutrin to my prescription regimen – because sertraline doesn’t seem to be cutting it; because I need a ‘lift’ in the morning to get me going; because while I don’t have ADHD, I need help focusing, prioritizing; because all my labs came back normal and there is no organic reason for my symptoms other than plain old depression and anxiety.

Whoop-ti-do-da-freakin’ DAY.

Four to five years after I started my first antidepressant. Two to three years after I finally (or so I thought) came to terms with ‘succumbing’ to the help of an antidepressant.

Seemingly light years away from that time when I humorously pointed out the name on a sticky-sided square of paper – thinking my worst worry was that people would mistake me for a person who needed medicinal balancing of her brain chemicals.

I have so much more to worry about now.

Off the Grid

The irony of

one post about the beauty of staring into the fire

and the next

about not staring but rushing around willy-nilly

does not escape me.

Of life-giving warmth

giving meditative bliss and salve

being ignored for

frantic prepping and sapping of adrenaline that may be needed in actual emergency.

I get it.

My analytic mind senses the conundrum.

My overly expectant self wallows in the defeat of two house-bound days devoid of relaxation.

Though my electrical panel never lost power, I did.

The ability to worry is the only sort of control I have.

Free to Fall

I think waiting for the power to go out is worse than dealing with its absence.

Flush the toilet one more time, hurry to put the last load of laundry in the dryer, fill the sink with soapy rinse water. Charge the computer, the tablet, the cellphone. Stack the wood, stoke the fire, boil one more pot for tea.

This blizzard is the perfect microcosm for my anxious world.

The worrying is worse than the event.

The scenarios the brain can come up with cause more pain than living through the eventuality.

The waiting, the waiting – for the other shoe to drop, the limb to fall, the powerline to go slack.

My mind is spinning faster than the vortex of wintry wind outside.

I am not thinking of the warm cocoon my house provides, the heat radiating from the wood stove that didn’t exist during the last such storm, the canned and dry goods in the pantry.

I am on edge. I am a raw nerve. I am living in fear of the worst outcome not happening – for if it did, I’d be free of the worry.

Jennifer Butler Basile

Jennifer Butler Basile

Mental Intervention

What was I thinking having three kids?

I mean, I love them, but who went and told them they could have their own social lives?

My life has turned into a maelstrom of meetings and play dates, educational outings and activities, birthday parties and sleepovers. Add that to my own [limited] social calendar and my outta-mind anxiety is over the top.

A dear friend once commented that a fellow mother reentered the real world more smoothly and earlier than I, perhaps because she came from a large family and was better equipped to juggle multiple responsibilities at once. She was busting my beans for being incommunicado for most of my child’s infancy, but it stung. Because I was an only child, I sucked at balancing the many demands of life? More so, I think it hurt because it hinted at my inability to cope. In a subconscious effort at self-preservation, I had compartmentalized my life to its limit. The new job of mothering was so all-consuming, I shut out all other demands like the airlock of a submarine to prevent an all-out deluge.

Nine years later, I feel myself pulling back, anticipating catastrophe as life – mine in relation to the swirling schedules around me – ramps up big time. Can I truly not handle all we’ve taken on? Or is my anxiety creating a problem before it’s even – or will – begun/in? I think my struggle is a direct result of my anxiety and not from a need to learn to say no.

It could also be the stubborn mule in me that hates change putting on the brakes. My family no longer exclusively rolls as one unit. The oldest is here, the middle is there, the youngest is home with Daddy while I run errands. Going to the grocery store by myself and buying Christmas gifts without acting like an art smuggler to keep them away from prying eyes is a luxury – but our family life feels so disjointed lately. Times of transition are not my friend.

Another friend once left me a message – somewhere between the two points on today’s timeline – that I couldn’t just stop answering the phone because I was stressed out. It amazed me that she could see me more clearly than I could see myself. When I finally did talk to her, she made me laugh and at least temporarily forget my troubles.

I need some sort of mental intervention now. If only I could enact one myself.

The Hairy Crumb

Do you remember when you were a child and your mother seemed so neat and tidy, so put together? She would whip the house into shape in no time. Flit about the house each morning, making beds, washing breakfast dishes, hanging clean laundry to dry in the sun.

You knew she did it, but it never occurred to you how. You never weighed the drudgery of the tasks, the tedious amounts of effort that went into the seemingly effortless job she did.

Did the tasks weigh on her the way they do you? Another item added to the to-do list adding one more stone upon your chest. The never-ending monotony of it threatening to suffocate you like a toppled tower of laundry. The disarray around you making you feel like a failure.

The hairy crumb on the floor taking on a life of its own, sucking the life out of yours spiraling out of control.

Keeping house probably didn’t send your mother into the existential angst of a panic attack. Not because she emulated June Cleaver, but because she was not (is not) ruled by anxiety. She would not take on more than she could chew. And if she did pack her calendar, she’d know how to prioritize to make it all work. She did not suffer from the irrational desire for physical orderliness as a means of reining in her mental and emotional chaos.

Or maybe you’re seeing your mother through the eyes of a child – a superhero who can do all effortlessly and heroically. Perhaps not unlike your own children see you. Only you’re pretty sure you never saw her sitting on the floor, hands hovering near her heart, tense and twitching, physically trying to push. the. demands. away.

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