The Long Road to Betterment

As human beings, regardless of our backgrounds, we’ve become conditioned to evaluate our success in life based on the monetary value of our material possessions. The impact of this trending train of thought has become detrimental to our society, and is especially toxic for those of us who already struggle to find our sense of selves, our true value.

This shift in humanity, in my opinion, grew exponentially with the rise of the technological era. While it’s existed within us for several generations, it’s much more prominent in the last few. And while recently there has been a small faction bringing minimalist living to light, currently more than ever we have become obsessed with the idea of owning the best and newest things.

This has been a difficult post to write because of my own current struggles on the topic. Where is the line between valuing possessions over what really matters, and yearning for a sense of security you’ve never known? There’s obviously financial security in the way of assets, and then there’s having a stable life. Who’s to say when we’ve taken it too far, and how do we separate the wants from the true needs?

I was raised as a welfare baby, my mom on social security, section 8, food stamps, and I’ve had government provided health insurance for my entire life. My mom still survives on the programs, and now I’m raising my daughter on food stamps and free health care as well. It’s not a choice, because while my husband works, it’s not enough, and I can’t bring in enough money with my disabilities to make the pain they’d cause worth the while.

I’m sure my mother wasn’t proud to need all that assistance to raise me, and I’m certainly not proud either. We recently began trying to apply for home loans, as we’ve both lived under mostly slum lords for our entire lives and we want better for our daughter. Long and painfully disappointing story short, we got denied this week and it broke me.

This switch has gone off inside of me, making me feel guilt, inferiority, and judgment towards myself. I swore I’d never raise my child on welfare, but this was before I knew of my physical restraints. Despite my lack on control in the matter, there’s a certain self resentment that comes with that, a sense of worthlessness. I thought I’d found the perfect home for us, actually allowed myself to get excited for once, and now someone else’s family will fill the home.

It’s been an incredibly trying week, with tensions always escalating and tensions always rising due to our current crappy living situation, and I haven’t felt this defeated in a really long time. Especially for those of us with mental illness, stability is incredibly imperative to our success, and it’s my firm belief that if I can finally achieve stability, maybe I can finally begin my journey to betterment.

What I thought was one step closer turned out to be two steps back, but I must still press on. I have to believe that there’s more left in life for me than just the current chapter, that the book will have at least a relatively halpy ending. Here’s to everyone else who’s had a disappointing week or felt broken by something outside of your control. Life gave us lemons, so I guess we’re making lemonade, no matter how sweet or sour it tastes.

PTSD, PPD, and Parenthood

My first mental illness diagnosis was given at age 3, and while I don’t have many memories of being in therapy at that young of an age, I’ve always felt as though it defined me. When you’re told something about yourself your entire life, things from before your earliest memories, it’s sometimes difficult to reconcile it within yourself. From as young as I can recall, I’ve been told about these tragic and devastating events that I can’t remember, but I wasn’t even old enough to recognize how truly terrible the things happening to me were.

My current combination of mental disorders is PTSD, major depressive disorder, avoidant personality disorder, agoraphobia, and OCD, with a dash of bipolar disorder. The collective adds up to be more than overwhelming most days, and sometimes, it’s downright unbearable. Despite all of this, though, I do not take any medications, attend counseling, or pursue any of the conventional treatment styles. After 15 years of being in therapy, once I turned 18, I decided that I wasn’t putting myself through it anymore. I went through more therapists than some people do friends, and still couldn’t find anyone that I could actually trust and connect with.

I thought I had everything under control for a few years, using things I loved to fill the voids of emptiness within myself – mostly with music and writing. It seemed as though it was helping, focusing purely on what I love, trying desperately not to give any thought to the things in life that brought me stress or extra anxieties about the future. I got pretty decent at living in the moment, being present in the now, enjoying the life I had while I had it, and I had stopped obsessing over the future, at least somewhat temporarily.

One day, after finding out that I was unexpectedly pregnant, I found myself crumbling apart again, all the walls around me crashing down one by one, leaving me exposed, vulnerable, and completely terrified of what life would become. Would I be able to manage, mentally and physically speaking, and if so, would my genes ruin the poor kid’s life before they’ve even breathed life? I had always been plagued by mental illness, almost constantly tormented by my own thoughts for as long as I can remember now.

Knowing how much I already struggled to keep it together, I knew ahead of time that with this pregnancy and the fear, anxiety, and stress it entails, that I would most likely suffer from extreme episodes of postpartum depression. Just what I needed, something else for my negativity to harness and turn into something that consumes me so much more than it should have. I worried about the kind of mother I’d be, would I be capable of helping her through hard times when I can’t even help myself?

Despite my reservations, my fears, and my lack of self-confidence, from the moment my daughter was born, I was in love, in awe, and completely overwhelmed by feelings that I’ve never even witnessed, let alone imagined that I would ever get to experience. She’s taught me patience (as much as any mother can have with a 3.5 year old), and she’s given me motivation to learn so much more about myself, and to push myself to try and pursue new things, to seek out any small semblance of joy from any given daily task.

Many people doubted my abilities to raise her, myself included, and one of the most fulfilling things I’ve experienced in life thus far, is feeling satisfied in the fact that I love her more than I thought possible, that I would do anything for her, and that I want nothing more than to protect her from any and all pain, and be her best friend. I’ve far surpassed even my own imagination as to how this whole thing could have gone, and it’s one of only two things I’ve accomplished in my lifetime that have made me feel proud.

It’s never going to be easy, but as they say, hardly anything is ever easy if it is also worthwhile. As for being a parent and trying to learn and grow as you go, nothing in life could ever be more worthwhile. For any other parents out there struggling with mental illness, just know that you can love just as fully as anyone else, and that it doesn’t make you any less worthy of having that love returned back to you tenfold. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt every once in awhile, you might just surprise yourself – I know I did.

Retrospective

There are times I find that it’s hard for me to accept how things have turned out in life, being 27 and unable to work due to chronic illnesses such as scoliosis and rheumatoid arthritis, to keep it short, has had a huge impact on who I am as a person. This definitely isn’t the life I envisioned for myself, and sometimes, like most, I feel a little sorry for myself. Before my disabilities took hold, before my daughter, my husband and I were in a relatively successful local band, and before becoming a mother, music was the only thing in life that I always knew was meant to be.

Once you’ve been within reach of your dreams and gotten a taste of what that feels like, it’s incredibly difficult when lost. At one point, I actually allowed myself to believe that all my wildest dreams could come true, that I would get every little thing I deserved for putting everything I have into being the best person that I can be. Once those thoughts take hold, everything else goes unnoticed, including the first signs that what you thought was wild success, may in fact turn into a complete and utter failure of a situation.

It took years for me to get the courage to perform on stage as a lead singer, I mean after all, my only experience had been singing in choir, and singing in the car and shower. But once I let myself show the world my talent, I never wanted it to stop – I wanted to show everyone, not just those who doubted me or worked against me, but to show people who struggle to find the self-esteem and strength to follow their dreams that it could be done, by a nobody nonetheless.

While the band has been dead for a few years now, I still haven’t finished grieving, and while I haven’t completely given up on the dream, the more time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult to manifest any sort of true motivation to pursue it anymore. As sad as that is, it’s a product of my ever persistent lack of confidence, despite the fact that I proved to myself that I’m definitely not lacking the talent to make it happen. Instead, I hate my body and pity myself and find it hard to open up about it, but it’s not something that anyone I know can truly understand.

I never knew until recently just how detrimental a role physical pain can play on your mental state, but it has eaten away so much from who I am, who I know I’m meant to be, and everything I wanted to accomplish in my life, that I completely resent myself and feel weakened not only physically, but spiritually as well. To some people, hobbies are silly and insignificant, and while music has always been so much more than that, I’ve got to allow this transition to take place and find some way to feed my creativity without relishing in the fact that I’ll may not ever be able to share it with the world in the way I always dreamed.

I’m not giving up, but it’s time to switch gears.

Friendship, Reignited

To those of us who’ve spent the majority of our lives struggling with anxiety and depression, one of the biggest obstacles to overcome is isolation. For me personally, this wasn’t actually an issue until I became a parent, because as someone with very little family, I always felt as though I needed a barrier of friends around me for protection. Fortunate as I was to have found those people when I was younger, I came to find, after entering adulthood, that friendship wasn’t quite what it seemed before.

What was once a crutch for my fear of loneliness, has now become an a burden of sorts, for I cannot seem to get back to being the kind of person who can actually maintain friendships. I was the type of friend that was always there when you needed them, but was also the one who failed to get invitations to parties and such. I’m the person who will tell you what you need to hear, no matter how badly it’s not wanted, and while I’m conscious of it as a flaw, I still tend to categorize it as a strength.

Recently I reconnected with an old friend, someone who’s been through some of the worst moments of my life with me, someone I’ve known for 16 years. There was a time when we were inseparable, never going days let alone years without talking, but we haven’t seen each other in about a year and a half. We’re both nearing our thirties yet we live completely opposite lives – mine revolving around my husband and daughter, and her still being single and living at home with her family. While it’s difficult to relate to her now in some ways, it’s also refreshing to talk to someone with a little bit of outside perspective, because sometimes that’s exactly what we need.

The moment that I basically gave up on everyone in my life was shortly after my daughter was born, nearly no one I’ve ever called a friend has even met her, and I got tired of always hearing the same old line, “Let’s make plans soon!” or “We’ll have to get together soon!”. Eventually you just stop believing it, seeing it for what it really is, a formality to lessen their guilt over not even remotely being there for me in any way at all. I began pushing everyone away, and I can’t honestly say that I regret it very much. It seemed like the mature thing to do, just accept it was all talk, let everyone off the hook, and focus on my daughter, since no one else was interested in being part of her life.

Back to now though, I’m relieved to have someone I can talk to outside of my husband, because while he’s my best friend, sometimes a woman just needs the ear of another woman to feel heard and understood. And let’s be honest, there’s just some things that men don’t want to talk or hear about, and I try not to overburden him with all of my anxieties and stresses, as he’s carrying enough on his shoulder trying to keep food on our plates and a roof over our heads.

This time around, I’m going to try to force myself to stay in touch with her, because at least she knows the true me and has been there through some of the defining moments of my life, good and bad, and doesn’t need explanation for my feelings and thoughts. We have plans for tomorrow and I have to admit, I’m more excited than I’ve been in years. She’s genuinely thrilled to spend time with my daughter, and what could warm a mother’s heart more than an old friend bonding with your child? Right now, it feels priceless.