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.

Post Script

The following is not advisable, nor is it recommended or endorsed by any of the information herein; the anecdotes serve as a reflection of my personal experiences. Do not take the same road I have.

 About three and a half weeks ago, I weaned myself off my antidepressant of seven years. For all the advice I’ve heard saying not to do so without medical supervision and all the times I’d poo-poo’d those who abruptly stopped medications – I weaned off my meds without medical supervision having made the decision totally independently.

I’ve written before about the panic that ratchets up watching the tablets dwindle in my amber colored bottle of sanity; about the same reasons I take them leaving me overwhelmed enough not to call the doctor for a new string of refills. It happened the same this time.

Except this time, I’d been growing ever more resentful of that daily bitter pill, something to remember, something to lean on heavily, something to possibly poison me.

In an as-yet-to-be-seen brilliant realization, I decided to space out my tablets to make them last longer – ‘until I got a refill’. I think that was my rationalization. I went down to one for several days, half for several more, and then a quarter.

Also around this time, however, I began reading A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives by Kelly Brogan. Now, if the rest of my follies here are not endorsements, this most certainly is not an endorsement of this book. It took me an awful long time to swallow – pun possibly intended – what Brogan had to say. After years of coming to terms – mostly – with taking antidepressants, here was an in-your-face account of how they were absolutely unhealthy and unnecessary. The whole first half of the book told me in no uncertain and sometimes holier-than-thou terms that I had been duped and made a terrible decision for and possibly irreparable damages to my body.

As I said, I started reading this book around the same time I was weaning. I did not read one ‘expert’s’ book and change my entire life regimen around it. As I was already tapering these ‘evil’ meds from my system, however, I was curious to see what other options could help me complete this process.

The second half of Brogan’s book is the best; the part where she gets to the heart of her mission: helping women live healthy and whole lives. I don’t know that her tone was less sanctimonious or I was better able to temper it with my own decisions of what would/would not work for me. Her plan focuses on a four-week implementation of diet, detoxing the home, meditation, exercise and sleep – a four-pronged approach to keeping the body and mind on track.

There is a lot in this book that resonates with me – some of which I already do, in fact. However, the four-pronged approach makes that panic rise in my chest almost as much as the rattle of fewer and fewer pills in the bottle.

When I started meds, feeling so like a failure for needing them (no projection, just my own neuroses), my therapist said, “this is the tenor of your life right now. Whether or not you were previously suffering with a mental illness, you were able to cope. Now, mothering several children, there are significant unalterable circumstances that make you unable to cope. Your medication can help you do so.”

Tenor still untenable.   Nothing new there. Well, actually there is a new kid.

So perfecting diet, sleep, mindfulness, exercise, clean living – all factors dependent on me, everyday, in my imperfect life is a little terrifying. Especially considering that failure, which is inevitable really, means a depressive state. No big.

Back to weaning: Brogan advises her 30 day detox before weaning to reset your system first. Ha. That may have helped. It also may have helped if I didn’t wean in the last week before my period as I prepped and embarked on a week-long trip with all four kids solo only to return, take two weeks to prep for school, and pack for one final vacation that ends on the eve of the new school year. Timing is everything.

There were times I wanted to scalp myself or my children that first week; times I wanted to scream louder than the baby refusing to just.go.to.sleep; scared that the crying jags meant my depression was coming back; irritable and snippy with my husband; and in a much lesser, yet slightly amusing development, America’s Got Talent’s package materials and any high note hit by a contestant made me well up.

Brogan warned me the withdrawal symptoms might present as a relapse of the original condition. Who’s to say I was struggling because I desperately needed the pill to supplement my body or give it a crutch?

I didn’t complete a long yoga session last week seeking clarity of mind in regards to all this. I was finally sick and scared enough at the skin and muscle getting looser around my frame and the big kids were shoe shopping with their grandparents. The amount of tension in my muscles shocked me. I sobbed at even the slightest release of it. Not the wet, slimy tears of a betrayal or breakdown, but the semi-silent, breath-catching heaves of chest with a few slick tears sliding down from the corner of eyes when I unsquinched them long enough to let them fall. I didn’t realize how much I’d been carrying until I tried to let it go.

And that was just the physical.

As trite as it may be, I had an epiphany on the yoga mat that morning. Even if I was taking medication to take care of my mental health, I wasn’t taking care of my self. I’d forgotten to force time for the things that keep my soul alive. Stretching, meditative thought and moments, reading, writing.

Did I need to stop meds to hit rock bottom hard enough to make the burning fire of my calves burn a hole in my consciousness? Perhaps not. Would I recommend cessation of meds as a path to clarity? No. But stopping meds to see where my mind and body were at this point in my life, nearly eight years out from the offending episode of postpartum, and then having such a visceral reaction to the stress in my life and body – that sent me an important message.

Regardless of what my decisions are in regard to lifestyle and care, self-care must be part of it. Placebo or perfect chemistry, a pill isn’t a miracle. All cylinders of my life, my soul must be firing.

Life will never be perfect. Even if I decide to follow Brogan’s regimen or another with or without meds, there will be times I fail. I can’t control circumstances outside my body, my sphere – hell, even in my sphere. (Did I mention I have four children?) But perhaps with the balance of self-care, I can temper the abberations. It’s a tall order, but right now, it’s keeping my mind centered on care – not maintenance or even just keeping the lid on.

That’s a pretty compelling read for me.

‘An Insidious Disease’

Source: providencejournal.com

I’ve had this article in my archives for a while now (click above for link).  Shanley offers a great primary source of living with depression.  Also, mental health’s place in greater society.

“Mental health has a bad PR firm.  It only seems to be on our radar when a well-known individual speaks to it, either in life or death, or when there is a mass killing.  Suicide is a word rarely spoken, and if so, only in whispers in back rooms.  Some of us know people who have stood on a bridge.  Some walked down.  Others did not.”

If it’s Monday, it must be . . .

After my third pregnancy, it felt like I saw every specialist under the sun. Midwife, general practitioner, physical therapist, behavioral therapist, chiropractor, podiatrist. It took a lot of work to put me back together physically and mentally.

My schedule hasn’t changed much this time around, except I’m starting my visits prenatally rather than post. And I haven’t hit everyone on the laundry list yet – which is probably a good thing, given I’m already having continuity of care issues.

Today I saw my general practitioner.

It was to be a followup after my visit to a psychiatrist. Shortly before my pregnancy, I’d started with this GP. When discussing my mental health history and current condition, she suggested I get a specific diagnosis from a psychiatrist since what initially presented as postpartum depression was persisting. I’d been continuing care with a LICSW I’d been seeing. Thanks to hospital systems and network nightmares, I’d need to go through 12 CBT sessions at his facility before even seeing the psychiatrist – even though that’s what I’d been doing for years with my own therapist. Already spooked by the red tape and thought of strong psychotropic drugs, I put it all on hold once I found out I was pregnant. I couldn’t start on new meds anyway and didn’t need any additional stress.

Through the guidance of my LICSW and midwife, I decided the benefits of continuing my low dose of meds were greater than the risk of harm during pregnancy. That’s not to say the decision was made lightly. I cut out mostly everything questionable when pregnant. I’d always felt guilt for taking meds in the first place. But after weighing all my options – and a few bad days of trying to wean – the meds stayed.

Now, my GP didn’t know any of this.

When I tried to verify my protocol and discuss my midwife’s suggestion to possibly wean toward the end of pregnancy so the baby would not suffer any possible ill effects of the drug as a newborn, she wondered whether she would’ve advised taking meds at all had she found out earlier in my pregnancy. She said that’s why she wanted the input of the psychiatrist, especially now with a pregnancy, to know exactly with what we were dealing.

Now, this GP is solid. She did not shy away from discussing different prescription therapies. She wanted me to see the psychiatrist to get to the origin point at the bottom of my pit. She is candid, empathetic. Today, however, I felt the doubt and guilt over taking meds during pregnancy try to push up. The doubt that I’m not getting the best possible prenatal care cropped up when she suggested I see an OB in my group rather than only a midwife; her reasoning being that should my situation become critical I would need someone to assess and intervene immediately.

She is following due process. She is looking out for the best interests of me and my baby. She is talented, trained, and professional.

And yet there are gaps in her knowledge of perinatal mood disorders and their treatment.

My midwife, fully aware there is no definitive research saying meds are 100% risk-free during pregnancy, also knows the research that an anxious and/or depressed mother can also have ill-effects on a developing fetus.

My LICSW knows the mental anguish I put myself through in making this decision and that I can’t hang without the meds.

All three are looking out for the best interests of me and my baby. All three are experts in their fields. And yet, at times, all three have told me something different.

Where is the continuity of care in the perinatal period? Yes, the knowledge base is growing. Yes, awareness is spreading. Yes, some practitioners are training themselves to be experts in this ever-growing area. But there isn’t enough widespread know-how. There are gaps in which women can and will fall through.

I haven’t met any of the OBs in the group I visit, but seeing one doesn’t guarantee me swift and effective intervention in the postpartum period. Not taking meds doesn’t guarantee a perfectly formed baby. Taking meds doesn’t even preclude mood disorders.

There is always some mystery involved in making and growing a baby. Insert mood disorders and mental health issues and the lines are blurred even further. Unfortunately, it still falls primarily to the mother to advocate for her own health amidst all the conflicting care.

Though still haunted by the postpartum experience in my previous pregnancy, I feel that I can advocate for myself this time. Knowing the danger signs, the markers, the despair, I feel equipped to request and access care as soon as it’s needed. I know who to ask and how to get it. However, that doesn’t mean that all of my helpers will be on the same page. One perinatal hand may very well have no idea what the others are doing – just as I don’t know which specialist I’m seeing unless I know which day it is.

hands

Netflix is Depressing

Netflix is making me depressed.

Ok, I can’t in good conscience blame all of my troubles on on-demand television services, but I can make a good case for their use attributing to my condition.

I’ll be the first to admit that I find cable television seasons highly annoying. You wait an inordinate amount of time for a show to start up again, only to watch it whisk by in five to six weeks. Each episode ends on a ridiculously frustrating cliffhanger, leaving you lunging at the TV for more, an urge you must tamp down for the following week. This manipulative cycle of desire and gratification has got us viewers trapped hook, line, and sinker.

Enter the world of on-demand services.

They don’t solve the week’s wait between new episodes, but glom onto a show just past its prime, and all the episodes are there for the taking. Want to see what happens next? No problem, my addictive friend. Binge away.

Such binges lead to a glorious few days or a week, depending on how long you stretch it out, but leave you – at the end of it – in the ubiquitous showhole. My kids don’t get that commercial. I find it eerily accurate. The fact that I recently learned to knit adds to the effect.

 

But choose a show so popular, there are scads of episodes, and the showhole never becomes an issue. I’ve recently fallen under the spell of Criminal Minds. I never watched it when it initially aired on network television. I missed that highly popular boat. I discovered it on one of the four over-the-air stations we were left with once we cancelled cable – the only one not airing paid programming or home shopping. However, the marathons I loved so much on Mondays and Tuesdays gave way to other crime shows I enjoyed much less the rest of the week. I searched Hulu to no avail. When we added Netflix a few months later, I was so excited to see all seasons represented. I could watch whenever I wanted and start from square one.

I would settle onto the couch with my pregnant morning snack or lunch or under the afghan when I needed a rest, my BAU friends entertaining me while I vegged. I could rationalize sitting there vegetating as long as the episode continued. Just until this episode finishes, just until they find the unsub, just until they solve the mystery.

However, when motivation is not high to begin with, and I haven’t been sleeping through the night, and I’m growing a child, and whatever low-level mental health issue is ailing me come together and Netflix plays their shows on a constant loop, it’s easy to stay on the couch for the next episode and the next and the next . . .

About half way through the third episode, the show isn’t even that scintillating anymore. It’s the construct and the comfort that leave me there, rooted to the couch, all semblance of productivity drowning in the abyss of my mind and pool of my guilt.

There is definitely a pleasure seeking/reward system at work with any media viewing. We seek solace, relaxation, a treat in our favorite show. But just as that huge bowl of ice cream eventually empties out, so our show ends, leaving us wanting and needing more to fill that reward center. With the overzealous access of on-demand services, it can become very easy to remove oneself from time, place, social connection in search of an elusive endgame – whether it’s escape, entertainment, distraction, avoidance, or happiness.

Holding Netflix responsible for my lack of mojo and self-control is about as ridiculous as suing McDonald’s for getting fat. I need to set up fail-safes and proactive measures to keep me from swirling ever closer to the rim of the showhole. But it’s so easy to drift along on the gentle current of complacency, detachedness . . .

At least I only have ten more seasons to go.

I’ve Been Had

I had to clear out months of clutter in a matter of weeks.

I had to squeeze in cleaning sessions between naps.

I had to let some things go that seemed absolutely essential.

I had to receive guests into an imperfect house.

I had to admit that the next week was lost due to physical and mental recovery.

I had to hope that it was just the exhaustion of overextension and not the harbinger of a downward slide

into

anger

irritability

the dull padding of apathy.

I have to rally the hopeful spirit of the season and strive to be reborn each day.

 

Both Sides Now

There are two sides to me.

One side,
so dedicated to hope and wanting to believe in its existence.
In life.
The opportunity for joy at every corner
despite the struggles.
In the goodness of humanity.

The side that must be so strong
it survives
in spite of

the other side.

A dark pessimism,
the cloud of depression
that tells me it won’t work,
you won’t find joy.
You will constantly struggle and be weighted down by me.

I am the first side.
The second side haunts me like a shadow.
It won’t win, but it makes things a hell of a lot harder.

* thanks to Joni Mitchell for title inspiration 😉

Crispy, Barbecue Self-Care

Less than 500 words of writing

Eyes closing

One hour and twenty minutes worth of recaptured sleep

Salty, savory snacks

Humorous programming

Mindless knitting

Are my muscles spasm-ing or atrophying?

Is this self-care or lethargy?

A day of needed slacking or anhedonia?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

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.

‘Sweetness and Light’ Amidst the Darkness

“’So what new stuff are you going to plant in the garden, Mom?’ I ask.

‘Plant?’ Mom says. She looks out at the yard and shrugs.

‘How about if we make a list? Marcy said it was good for you to make lists and cross things off. When you first got home, you made lists.’ I stand up to go get some paper and a pencil. I want Mom thinking violets, daffodils, tulips, bright colors flashing in her brain.

‘Thinking about spring tires me out, Chirp,’ Mom says.

‘But in May we can pick lilacs!’ I say. ‘We love picking lilacs.’

Mom reaches for my hand. ‘Just sit with me, honey.’

I sit back down.

I need to stay patient with Mom, especially since her new psychiatrist just told her that he thinks her depression is chronic, which means it will never completely go away. She’s been depressed at different times in her life and will probably always struggle with it. That’s news she needed like a hole in the head just two weeks after gettting home.

Three black-capped chickadees play follow-the-leader around the rhododendron bush. I can’t tell if Mom’s watching them.

‘You don’t have to pick lilacs,’ I say. ‘You can just keep me company when I pick them.’

Mom puts her arm around me and squeezes tight. When I look at her face, tears are streaming down.

‘Listen, Chirpie,’ she says, brushing the tears away like they’re pesty no-see-ums. ‘I need to tell you something important, okay?’

‘Okay.’

‘You’re a really special girl. A beautiful, strong, special, special girl. You know that, right?’ She’s gripping my arm.

‘Uh-huh.’

‘Good,’ she says. ‘It’s important.’ She lets go of my arm. She rests her hand on my knee. ‘When I was a girl, my mother loved to tell me what was wrong with me. I made no sense to her at all.’ Mom stares out at nothing. ‘Luftmensch.

Luftmensch?

‘It’s a Yiddish word. It means a dreamer. From my mother, the worst thing a person could be.’

‘But didn’t she like some things about you?’

Mom doesn’t answer for a long time. Finally she says, ‘My hair. My mother liked my hair.’

Wind whips across the yard. The grass shivers.

I touch Mom’s hair, but she doesn’t look at me.

‘She didn’t love me,’ Mom says quietly. ‘That’s just the simple, hard truth.’

A crow screeches, and all three chickadees take off into the air at the exact same time.

‘Wow!’ I say.

Please, Mom. Please, Mom. Notice.

‘Wow,’ Mom says, with a little smile.

We watch the chickadees until they disappear into the trees.

‘Lilacs are my favorite flower,’ Mom says.

‘I love them,’ I say

‘Me too,’ she says.

‘They smell so good.’

‘Like sweetness and light, Chirpie.’

I put my hand in Mom’s pocket. She reaches in and holds my hand. It’s sweetness and light, our hands together in her warm pocket.

— from Nest by Esther Ehrlich

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