I Left My Anxiety in the Dust—a Poem

My brain matter

does often scatter

throughout my brain

unable to drain

unnecessary clutter

that makes me shutter.

My body trembles from my head to my toes

filling me with painful unsettling woes.

This is anxiety at its finest and worst

causing me to feel like I will soon burst.

My combustible self becomes frozen within,

unable to move, immobilized and unable to begin.

Need to take smaller steps inside the winding staircase of my mind.

Look inside to see what I will find. Too much pain and sorrow to unwind.

Must be patient with myself and wait.

Tomorrow my brain will have a new fate.

Today, the morning dew

made my brain feel like new.

Left my painful anxiety in the dust.

Brain returned uncluttered and robust.

It’s been a wonderful anxiety free kind of day.

My brain, body and I rather like it this way.

~written by Susan Walz

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”  ~Lao Tzu

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Copyright © 2018 Susan Walz | myloudbipolarwhispers.com | All Rights Reserved

Tears of Stigma—Listen to Our Cries

Cancer they empathize,

but don’t hear my cries.

Heart disease they empathize,

but won’t see my cries.

Diabetes they empathize.

but hide from my cries.

Even the flu they empathize,

but are afraid of my cries.

 Mental illness cries

they do not empathize.

Instead we’re blamed, biased and shamed

for having an illness we did not cause.

Mental illness survivors deserve much applause.

Accept, understand, and sympathize,

show respect, support, love and empathize.

Please listen and hear our mental illness cries,

so stigma will end and we can overcome, conquer and rise.

~written by Susan Walz

Copyright © 2018 Susan Walz | myloudbipolarwhispers.com | All Rights Reserved

Reflections

Reflections

A short story based on true events, By Chelsea Walker

A wave of hot air washed over her as she left the air-conditioned grocery store.  She almost didn’t notice it.

Imagine that, she thought absently, I’m finally getting used to the heat. 

After living in the Arizona desert for almost 10 years, Sarah was finally able to make it through the summer without feeling like a melting crayon.  She turned her cart toward her section of the parking lot and lazily made her way over to her vehicle.  There was a light, hot breeze—just enough to shake the leaves on the trees that grew, evenly spaced throughout the asphalt lot.  The sky was a brilliant blue—not a cloud in sight.  A typical day summer day in the desert.  She sighed.

I can’t wait for monsoon season.

Rainy days were scarce here.  It was something she really missed about her childhood home in Canada—the cool rainy days, among other things.  But that was a long time ago and now little more than distant memories.  She slowed her pace as she approached her car, digging her hand into the pocket of her purse.

Where are my keys?

She dug through the jumbled mess of receipts, wrappers and hot wheels cars until her fingers made contact with cold metal.  Finding the fob, she unlocked her car and began loading her few small bags into the trunk.  The sand colored Toyota Camry was one of the best purchases she and her husband had made in their almost 6 years of marriage.  They had scrimped and saved long enough to buy it with cash.  It was the perfect size for their little family–just big enough to fit the two of them, their 2-year-old son, Anders, and now, their new baby, Cathrin.

“Oh shoot!” She exclaimed aloud.

I forgot to grab the milk. 

She groaned.  Hurrying, she gingerly shut the trunk and locked the car with her fob as she rushed back inside.  She practically ran back to the dairy cooler, grabbed a gallon of skim milk and made her way to the checkout, ending up in the same line as before.  “Forgot to grab this.”  She said, smiling at the clerk when she saw a questioning look in his eye.  “I thought you looked familiar,” he winked in response.  Jerry, an older gentleman, was typically here on Saturdays and always seemed to have a smile and a kind word for everyone.  Sarah tapped her foot as Jerry rang up her purchase.  She quickly paid with her card and rushed back out to the car.

I hope my frozen stuff is still cold. 

Sliding onto the front seat, she started the car, and blasted the air conditioning.   She waited a moment with the door still open to let the hotter air inside the car, out.  She looked at the temperature reading in the dash.   115 degrees Fahrenheit.  Plenty hot.  When she felt like the temperature in the car had gone down some, she closed the door and reached for her sunglasses.  They burned her fingers.  Sighing, she put the Camry in reverse and started for home.

Her little reprieve from the duties waiting for her at home was over.  There was always so much to do, and Sarah was determined to do it as perfectly as possible.  She tried to smile as she thought of the children, but as she turned the final corner to her townhouse complex, she could feel her stress level and anxiety rising.  It seemed to explode with intensity the closer she got.  Sarah did her best to push it down.  It was how she always dealt with it lately.  She decided a while ago that she could at least fake feeling normal by forcing the unpleasantness down and just pushing ahead.  She didn’t know what else to do.  It seemed to be more intense than ever these past several days.  The only time it let up, was when she was away from home.

Everything’s fine.  She told herself, as she parked and grabbed her grocery bags out of the trunk.

As she walked the up the short stretch of sidewalk leading to her front door, her mind went to her friend, Maren.  Maren had recently had a baby, as well and really struggled with postpartum anxiety.  She ended up admitting herself to an inpatient behavioral health facility to get treatment.  She had talked to Sarah about how much it helped her.  She suggested that Sarah check it out.  Sarah pushed the thought out of her mind.

Why would I do that?  I’m fine.  I’m just stressed, that’s all.

She took a deep breath and stopped outside the glass sliding door, that was the front doorway of their townhome.  Beige, tab top curtains covered the glass from the inside.  She thought back to when they had first moved here and how excited she had been.  She didn’t feel excited about much these days.  She mostly felt stressed out of her mind.

Taking another deep breath, she set her grocery bags down on the concrete and grabbed her key out of her purse.  As she stuck the key in the keyhole a sweet, little boy—her Anders—pulled the curtain aside and smiled up at her.  His brilliant blue eyes sparkled with excitement as he bobbed up and down with his hands clasped in front of him.  Sarah couldn’t help but smile now.  She loved this boy and his sister more than words could express.

That is why I keep going every day, she affirmed to herself.  For them.

She opened the sliding door and cheerfully greeted him as he hugged her legs.  “Hello, my sweetie!” Sarah crooned at him.  “I missed you so much!”  She tousled his blonde hair and laughed.

Scott, her husband, greeted her with a hug and kiss and grabbed the grocery bags from outside, shutting the door, while Sarah made her way over to the lavender bouncy seat.  She bent down and lovingly enclosed a sweet bundle in a pink onesie, into her arms as she stood.  “My sweet Cathrin,” she lovingly whispered, pressing her cheek to the young infant’s.  Sarah kissed the little rosebud lips, which were now opened in a big smile.  Sarah laughed at the slobbery kiss.  She returned the little Cathrin to her seat and made her way over to the kitchen.

In doing so, she surveyed the scene around her.  Giant cardboard building blocks and cars littered the stained carpet and laundry piles dominated one half of the couch.  She saw that Scott had made progress on the kitchen, which was mostly clean.

He must have worked on that while I was gone.

“Thank you,” Sarah said, as she made her way over to her better half.  They hugged again and as they broke apart, Scott saw the sadness in her eyes.  “What’s wrong?” he gently asked, concern in his gaze.  “I’m just not feeling great,” She said.  “I feel so stressed out all the time.”  Her unpleasant feelings which had been simmering in the background during the happy greetings had returned in full force.  “I’m sorry, Sar,” Scott said sadly—using her pet name.  “Is there anything I can do?  Would you like to go and take a nap for a bit?”

Sarah thought the idea over and decided it might be good to take a little break.  She nodded her agreement and made her way upstairs to their bedroom, tears starting to fall as she went.

Why is this happening to me?

***

Sarah stood at the kitchen sink, washing the last of the dinner dishes, while Scott got the kids into bed for the night.  She could hear them walking around upstairs.  It sounded like Scott was probably getting Anders out of the tub and into his little bedroom at the top of the stairs.

She thought back on the day as she scrubbed the casserole dish and stared absently out the window into their tiny backyard.  The dry weeds were almost thigh-high back there.

When the weather is cooler, we will have to take care of that.  One more thing to worry about.

Sarah was able to “rest” a little earlier that afternoon—if you could call it rest.  She had been laying down but was tense, stressed and anxious.  She was much too keyed up to sleep and so finally decided to get up and get some dinner ready.

“Do you want to watch a movie tonight, Sar?”  Scott had asked during dinner.  Sarah knew he was really trying to lift her spirits.  “Sure,” she agreed, though she knew it wouldn’t help anything.  Maybe it would distract her for a little while.

I suppose that can’t hurt.  She acknowledged to herself, as she absently finished the last of the dishes and drained the sink.

Sarah started feeling worse as the day had gone on.  She went from feeling overwhelming stress to feeling something she couldn’t even really describe to herself.  She just felt wrong.  As she dried her hands on the faded dish towel, she made her way up the wood stairs to use the bathroom.

As she walked, she took one last look at the mess downstairs.  It seemed to have gotten worse since earlier.  How that was possible, she wasn’t sure.

I’m exhausted.  I’ll do it tomorrow…

She entered the bathroom and flicked on the light in the tiny space, revealing light blue walls and a small white vanity, with a toilet and a tub.  It was the only bathroom in their little townhouse.  Not the best of arrangements but it worked alright for them.

I’m not feeling right.  She thought again.  What is happening to me?

She closed the bathroom door and turned, facing the mirror.  As she did so, she glimpsed her reflection and was startled by what she saw.  Instead of her kind, cheerful face, her reflection’s features were twisted with malice and hatred.  She saw her shoulder length brown hair and fair complexion.  There were her green eyes—It was her, but it was not her.  Her mouth seemed to curl with contempt or twist in a sneer.  Her dark eyebrows angled downward in a menacing frown and in her eyes was a look of pure evil.  It was a dark, caricature of herself and she knew it meant her harm—maybe even wanted to kill her.

This isn’t real.  This isn’t real!

Sarah covered her eyes in fright and became aware of a new sensation.  It was as though she could feel hundreds, maybe thousands of demons all around her, shouting at her in her mind.  She fumbled with the lock in the door handle, finally unlocking it, and ran into the bedroom.

“Scott!”  She shouted, sobbing freely.  “Scott, something happened!”

Scott, startled, looked up from the clothes he was folding on the bed, concern in his eyes.  “Sar–what’s going on?”  He crossed the room quickly and encircled her in a warm embrace.  She tearfully recounted the strange and frightening events in the bathroom.

“It’s going to be ok,” he said soothingly.  Looking up at him, she could see the worry in his eyes.

“I want to go get evaluated, at that facility–like Maren suggested.” Sarah conceded, relief flooding her at the thought.

Maybe someone there will know what’s going on… and how to make this all stop.

“Yeah?”  He asked.  “That’s probably a good idea.”  He paused.  “Are you going to be ok tonight?” He questioned, looking down at her.

“I think so,” she said cautiously, still visibly shaken.  “I just don’t think I can go back in there–at least not right now.”  She said, referring to the bathroom.  Fresh tears came as the unpleasant memory played over again in her head.  She tried desperately to focus on the reality around her and not the enormity of confusion and fear she felt.  She looked around the room willing her mind to think of anything else, but try as she might she could not shut out the memory and the alien way she felt inside.

“Why is this happening?” She finally asked him, through her tears, the helplessness evident in her voice.

“Do you want to say a prayer?” Scott gently asked.  Sarah nodded and the two knelt by the bedside, Scott humbly asking God to help Sarah feel better tonight so that she could sleep.  Peace washed over her.

Feeling comforted Sarah hugged Scott telling him thank you, for all he did for her.  “Of course,” he said simply.  “I love you.”

“I love you too, Scott.  I couldn’t get through this without you.  I’m sorry you have to deal with all this.”  She said.

“Sar–don’t worry about that.”  He said kindly. ” That’s why I’m here–to help you.”  He kissed her and went to get ready for bed.

As Scott went to brush his teeth, Sarah changed quickly into some pajamas and climbed into bed, pulling the covers up to her chin as she rolled to over her right side.  She closed her eyes, trying her best to maintain her calm and blessedly fell quickly asleep.

 

Journey to a Diagnosis, Part III

Today I will write the final chapter in my Journey to a Diagnosis series.  Find the rest of the story here and here.

When I got home from the inpatient facility my house was empty of children.  My mother in law ended up bringing the kids to her own house for the last half of my stay.  I was grateful to have a little time to adjust to being home before I was thrown back into normal life.  When they finally came home, I felt really out of my element.  The high doses of medication I was on left me feeling less than energetic and “off my game.”

We had some great friends who did some renovations in our townhouse while I was away.  They painted some walls and our kitchen cabinets.  They also bought us a new tv and gave us some really nice furniture.  It was such a lift and helped me feel like I was going home to a fresh start.  I will be forever grateful for their kindness to us during this difficult time.

As glad as I was to be home and to be free of mood swings, I soon became aware of new difficulties that arose due to the medications I was on.  I was taking high doses of Lithium, Tegratol and Geodon.  The side effects were terrible.  I was on so much medication that I felt and behaved like a zombie.  My movements were markedly slow, I had digestive issues, and I felt almost completely devoid of emotion of any kind.  My mom and my closest friend both told me later that they felt like I had lost all of my personality.  It was difficult to talk to me as I never had anything to say.  I would just sit off to the side, my mouth literally hanging open.  I was overly sedated and everyone could tell.

In addition to these unpleasant realities, I was even more sedated at night, which was when I took my medications.  I would fall almost instantly asleep.  My husband found it impossible to wake me.  He just had to wait until I awoke on my own.  This meant he had to wake with our baby at night and couldn’t leave for work or school in the morning until I woke up.  Thankfully, this all worked out alright.  Our baby mostly slept through the night and Ryan’s schedule allowed him to be around in the morning.

The hardest part of all of this for me, was processing the reality of what I had been through.  I had been inpatient for my mental health.  I had “lost my mind”–or so I told myself.  I was so afraid of having to face the people I knew.  What would they think?  Were they all talking about it?  I felt like I may as well have had a flashing neon sign on my forehead that said “crazy.”  I felt that if people knew what had happened that I would lose all credibility as a teacher and mentor at church.  I felt like others would judge me harshly.  I didn’t think they would understand at all.  I certainly didn’t feel like I could talk about it openly.

To make matters worse, I felt that I was being excluded from activities that other young moms in my church community were doing.  I was likely putting a negative spin on events.  It is hard to know at this point.  But, at the time, I felt really left out.  And I thought it was because of what I had been through.  I felt they thought it was easier not to deal with me and my strange issues.  Again–in hindsight, this probably isn’t true, but such were my feelings and perceptions at this time.  This made a hard situation more difficult.  If only I had someone to confide in, it may have helped me better understand what had happened.

I was, however, very thankful for the amazing outpatient care I received from Dr. Holland.  He was kind and compassionate.  When I told him of my side effects, he helped me switch from Lithium to Lamictal.  This was a very positive change.  He also switched me from Geodon to Abilify.  Lastly, he took me of off Tegratol, due to some negative changes in my labs.  All of this helped me improve immensely.  I still had excellent symptom management, but I felt more like myself.

Sadly, Dr. Holland decided to close his outpatient practice and go exclusively inpatient.  I had to switch doctors.  I ended up with another great doctor.  As I continued to improve, he began to wean me down off the higher doses I was on.  This helped me feel even more like myself.  But this doctor went inpatient as well, and so I had to switch again.  I ended up going through a few more doctors for similar reasons.

I started doing so well, that doctors began telling me that they thought my initial diagnosis of bipolar was incorrect.  I was overjoyed to hear this, of course.  I was weaned off all of my medications until I was only taking a tiny dose of Abilify.  I was able to stay here and be well for a period of years.

If you’ve been reading my posts, you know the rest.  I weaned off my Abilify, became pregnant with my last child and everything fell apart.  Postpartum, I finally found myself sitting across the desk from a new psychiatrist–the one who could fit me in the fastest, as she told me in no uncertain terms that I most certainly did have bipolar disorder.  She passed me the box of Kleenex as I started to sob.

Coming to terms with this reality was very difficult for me.  I wanted to talk my way out of it: “But what about last time?  I got all the way better!  This can’t be real.”  The longer my depression went on, the more accepting I became.  “This is real.”  I was finally able to tell myself and I could believe it– and feel peace about it.

Whenever I am tempted to think I am home free and everything is fine.  I think back on the last 17 years and I know that I am fooling myself.  It helps put things back into perspective and reminds me that I still need to take measures to protect my mental health.

I am deeply grateful every day that I can function in my life.  In my mind, It is nothing short of a miracle to go from where I was to where I am now–and to realize I have been through this twice!  Two trips through hell, and back.

I have a special place in my heart for people who suffer–with anything, really.  This is because I have felt suffering.  When I think of others enduring agony, I can empathize, because I have felt agony.  I especially feel for women–mothers, who struggle with mental illness, all while trying to raise their families and get through all that that entails, day after day after day.

I also acknowledge that because I have felt deep pain and suffering, my gratitude for the good times runs deeper than ever before and my joys are deeper as well.  I am grateful for all the good that can come out of suffering.

So, yes, I have bipolar disorder.  It is a part of my journey.  I have learned to affectionately call this condition my “tutor”–because it has been through my experiences with it that I have learned and grown so much.

Where are you in your journey with mental illness?  Are you just starting and trying to figure things out?  Are you in the hard times right now, trying to get through?  Or are you enjoying a period of rest and peace in your life?

Wherever you are, thank you for being a part of my journey.  I’d love to hear from you!  Share your experiences below.

Gratitude–a Game Changer

According to Google Dictionary, A game changer is defined as “an event, idea, or procedure that effects a significant shift in the current manner of doing or thinking about something.”  Gratitude, for me, was such a thing as I struggled through deep depression from bipolar disorder.

While we are looking up definitions, why not take a look at Gratitude?  This is defined by Google Dictionary as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”

Could something as simple as being thankful, really be a game changer?  I will attempt to illustrate just how this worked in my life.  Who knows?  Maybe you will find it to be that “ace up your sleeve” that will help you turn a corner in your recovery from significant depression.

If you have been reading my posts, you know that my most recent episode of bipolar depression caused me intense mental pain and a feeling of being in deep darkness.  I also had many physical manifestations of my depression.  I had excessive weakness and fatigue that caused me to wonder if there was a serious physical medical problem going on.  To say that I felt overwhelmed by what I was experiencing is an understatement.  I was emotionally drowning in tidal waves of hopelessness.  I felt completely inadequate to handle what was happening.  I finally got on needed medications and this helped to just take the edge of of what I was feeling, but I was still suffering.  On top of this I felt very negative about who I was.

Everything was terrible.  It was too hard for me to bear.  I would never make it through.  There was nothing to be glad about.  These were my thoughts at this time.

I went on like this for a period of months–I don’t remember how long now.  But then, as I have recounted before, I had a moment where I realized something had to change.  I had to change.  I didn’t know how long this would be going on.  Would my circumstances stay like this for 5, 10 years?  Maybe the rest of my life?  I certainly didn’t know.  I just knew that if this was going to be a long haul, I wanted to do my best to be happy.

I couldn’t change my circumstances, but I could change me.

I had an epiphany, of sorts–I decided to try cultivating an attitude of gratitude.  It was difficult, at first.  I had to look deeper than I was accustomed to looking.  I decided, that my way of cultivating an attitude of gratitude within me would be to say a prayer of thanks, any time I noticed something good in my life.  I have heard others say that having a notebook handy to record a positive occurrence in your life, works as well.

I would acknowledge any good thing, no matter how small.

For example, I recall a time I was headed to the dentist, but I was running late.  I had green lights at every intersection which sped my arrival.  Now, in the past, I might had overlooked that, but because I was really trying to notice something–anything good–I saw positive things I would have missed otherwise.

Here’s another, more recent example.  I had a short window time to do a little shopping.  I headed to the thrift store–a hobby of mine– and found an armful of things.  When I got ready to purchase my items, I realized that I was going to be late picking up my son from preschool, unless I had a very fast checkout.  There was a problem, though–every line was long and each person in line seemed to have as many items to purchase as I did.  I inwardly groaned.  Thankfully, a new register was opened right next to me and I was invited to check out there.  My checkout process was quick enough that I made it in time to pick up my son from school.  Definitely something to be grateful for!

Now, maybe you are thinking–noticing a couple of good things isn’t going to do anything for me.  And you might be right.  But if you can start to notice and record all the little things going right each day, at the end of the day, you will quickly realize just how long the list is. It won’t be just one or two measly things, it will be dozens of small things that add up to this: there are many things going right in your life.  That is what happened for me and I can assure you that you will notice the same!

It became my quest to look for the good things happening in my life.  It still is.  Being able to really look and notice the good, shifted my perspective from one of negativity and self-pity, to one of deep gratitude.  Just imagine what it could do for you–if you could make it your quest to notice positive occurrences in your daily life.

I still had depression.  I still struggled with negative thoughts and feelings.  I still had difficulty coping with my life, but I was able to do so with gratitude.  I could see the good.  My attitude had changed and I endured with greater patience and greater peace.

Have you had experience with this?  I would love to hear about it.

Before I conclude, let me share some things I’m thankful for today.  Right now, I am really grateful that my son took a nap this afternoon, so that I can have some quiet time to myself.  I am thankful I had hummus and veggies for lunch because it’s one of my favorite foods.  I am thankful I got to go the gym today and use my favorite machine.  I am grateful a good episode of “Fixer Upper” was on while I used the elliptical because it helped me get through my workout.  The list can go on and on and on–It’s all in your perspective.

What will you notice today?

My advice for the Mom with Postpartum Mental Illness

Because both of my depressive episodes occurred during the postpartum period, I have learned a little bit with regard to how to handle this situation.  Most of it, I learned in hindsight–realizing things my husband and I would have done differently after the fact.  I’m no expert, but I have a few things I’d like to share that I hope will help someone else.

First, get help immediately.  Speaking from my own experience as well as from friends that I know who have gone through similar experiences–it pays to talk to a professional right away.  If you aren’t sure about medications yet, try a therapist first.  If you are having difficulty with intense anger, feeling “wrong” mentally, having mood swings, intense fears and anxiety and especially if you are experiencing suicidal ideation or thoughts–I personally recommend seeing a psychiatrist as soon as possible.  This is just my personal recommendation as a fellow sufferer–if I can’t function then I can’t take care of anyone else.  With a new baby depending on me for all of their basic needs and more, I need to get better.  For me, medication was essential.  Don’t delay your care!  In my experience, these things tend to get worse when they aren’t addressed.  Get help immediately.

Second, get as much good sleep as possible.  Did you just shake your fist at the computer?  Or maybe you threw your phone across the room.  Did I forget you have a newborn that wakes at all hours of the night?  Trust me, I know this all too well.  After my last baby I got to the point where I could not even fall asleep at night because I was already in a panic about having to wake up in just a few short hours.  My symptoms were compounding and getting worse due to sleep deprivation.  The worse I felt, the harder it was to sleep–it was a vicious cycle.  This brings me to sub-point 2a: Consider bottle feeding.  This was a hard decision for my very over-extended mind.  I wanted to do what was best for my baby.  Of course breastmilk is the ideal food for a human infant, but you know what is an even more ideal situation for an infant?  A mother who is emotionally and mentally able to care for her child and herself.  Formula is a modern day miracle, in my opinion.  It allows women, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to, to feed their own babies–and allows others to help.  Make the choice that allows you to be the best mom you can be, and don’t let anybody else guilt you into choosing otherwise.  Bottle-feeding will allow others the ability to help with night (and day) feedings which will give you more sleep.

Third, let others help!  Don’t try to be a hero.  The first thing you need help with is the night feedings.  Enlist the help of your partner or other family member or friend.  The best situation here is probably to alternate nights.  You do one night, your helper does the next night.  Then you each get a night of full sleep every other day.  If I were to ever have more children, my husband and I would hire a person in to do the night feedings.  I have no idea how expensive this is, but wouldn’t that be a dream?  That’s not realistic for most, so really tap into your support system here.  Sleep is a non-negotiable part of your recovery.

My husband, was my hero during this time.  Knowing that I couldn’t function without sleep, after we switched to bottle feeding, he handled all of the night feedings for me, every single night, while still working full time–and this baby did not sleep through the night for many months.  As you can imagine, this was detrimental to my husband’s health.  He was in a constant state of burnout for months and this took it’s toll on him.  I wish we would have brought in outside help.  No person is invincible.  I was in no position to help with making important decisions, as incapacitated as I was, and Ryan (my husband) was just trying to make it through each day.

Ask for outside help.  When a parent is struggling with mental illness it affects the whole family.

Let others help in any way they might offer.  Maybe you have a friend who offers to bring you dinner–don’t turn her down!  Let your friend bring dinner.  Maybe someone offers to watch your baby/children so that you can get away for a break, or take a nap.  Let them.  Don’t turn down any offers for help.  This is not the time for you to act like you’ve got things together.  This is a time for others to help you as much as possible so that you can take care of yourself.

Fourth, share what you are going through with others.  This goes along with number 3.  If others don’t know what is going one, they won’t reach out to help.

When I was pregnant with my 4th baby, I was on bedrest for about 9 weeks due to some complications.  Our church community knew what was going on and arranged to bring dinner in for our family, 3 days a week for that full 9 weeks.  Many people also came and helped with cleaning, took my older children on outings, and visited me because I was home-bound and needed company.  This was a sweet experience to be the recipient of so many acts of service.  It made me want to do the same for others as soon as I got back on my feet.

I never got back on my feet.  With the onset of my mood swings and extreme depression, I was really struggling to get through minute by minute, day by day.  Although people knew I was having a hard time, they didn’t really know the extent, and if they did know–they did not know how to support and help us in this situation.  I was only open with a few people about what was actually going on.  Having just received so much help while on bed rest, and being so mixed up mentally, I didn’t even think to ask for help from our friends and family.  My husband and I  just struggled through this extremely difficult time on our own.

If I could do it again, I would have opened my mouth more–or had my husband open his mouth, to those we knew.  I know people would have rallied around us and helped in any way they could, but we never gave them the opportunity.  We could have used dinners on occasion, help with cleaning, help with our children, from time to time–this would have lightened our load considerably.  Don’t follow our bad example.  Reach out to your support system–let them know what is going on and tell them you need help.

Fifth, make time for yourself.  With the help of family and friends, schedule time for yourself, every single day.  If you have one child, this might be done while your baby sleeps.  If you have multiple children, call in help for child care so that you can get away from the house and do something you enjoy, or just relax, away from the cares of mothering.  You are important!  You are the glue that keeps everything together at home.  You will be a better mother to your children and a happier person if you will figured out how to make this for yourself, every single day.  This needs to be a non-negotiable part of your self-care.

Sixth, go into survival mode.  You can read more about this here.

You will get through this time and things will get better.  Enjoy your new baby as much as you can.  I spent lots of time just holding my last baby.  Partly because I knew he would be our last child and partly because that physical connection to another human was good for me emotionally.  It’s good for your baby, as well.

If you need more suggestions for navigating depression, check out my other posts.

Have you lived through postpartum mental illness in the past?  Share how you got through it.  Are you in the middle of it right now?  Share your story.

Dispelling Emotional Darkness

Alien Mind

A poem, by Chelsea Walker

Within this crypt,

This coffin deep

The real me gone–

Dead, fast asleep

I dwell inside the doorless keep

of my alien mind.

Shadows darken

All I view

Gloomy yellow

Light imbues,

Scenes of horror to confuse,

In my alien mind.

Bony fingers,

Cold as ice,

Tons of pressure,

Like a vice,

Squeeze with agony inside

Of my alien mind.

Evil whispers

Fill my ears

While ghoulish phantoms

Leap and jeer.

No sound of comfort do I hear

In my alien mind.

Curled up–

Full of fear I hide.

Body trembling,

Dark inside.

Hoping visions will subside

And truth will fling the exit wide

That I may leave the darker tides

Of my alien mind.

This is darker than what I would usually write.  My intention here was to describe what it’s like to be in the depths of darkness and pain from depression.  That being said–I have to acknowledge that though this was a reality for me at one time, I have been free from this dark, alien state of mind for a long time.  I still struggle with depression, but not on such an extreme scale.  Because of what I’ve been through, I learned a significant truth:

There is always hope, no matter how deep the darkness.

The thing about darkness is that the only way to dispel it is with light.  This is true in the physical/literal realm as well as the emotional/mental realm.  Ponder with me, as I explore this idea.

There are many different sources of light in our physical world.  Sticking with what is most obvious and familiar, the first lights that come to mind are: a flashlight, a ceiling light in a room that is switch operated, and the sun.  First, properties of a flashlight are that it lights only a single beam directly where it is pointed.  The remaining area will still be dark as before.  It’s sufficient to get us from point A to point B usually, but does not provide enough light to really let us see what is going on all around us.  Second, the properties of a ceiling light in a room include that the light comes on instantly, with the flick of a switch–immediately dispelling darkness.  This type of light is usually sufficient to light the entire room at once.  Lastly, let’s examine the sun’s properties.  Imagine with me how the sun lights the earth–is it just instantly in the sky and it’s suddenly illuminating everything?  Of course not– the sunrise is a slow and gradual process that begins with a grey dawn which eventually progresses to full morning light, then climaxes with afternoon sunlight, which tends to be it’s brightest and hottest time.

Stick with me–this is where I’m going to tie this in to depression.  You’ve heard me say that depression for me felt like darkness.  I would have loved for the proverbial light switch to appear and end that instantly, but this rarely happens in these situations.  So, since the light switch was unavailable, I needed to use something to light my way while the darkness was all encompassing.  Something like an emotional flashlight.  Something to help me navigate this darkness while waiting for the sun to rise.

Because one thing you can always count on, is that the sun will rise.  It’s just a matter of time.

So what would I consider an emotional flashlight?  I would say that anything that gives you courage and strength to go on would be an emotional flashlight.  As would anything that helps you relax, recharge and be at peace.  All of these types of things keep the emotional darkness at bay.  It might only be a small bit of help, but that is what the flashlight does–it’s gets us from point A to point B.  It gives us just enough of a lift to keep going.  Here are some things that were emotional flashlights for me:

  • Guided meditations and white noise
  • Reading
  • Prayer, meditating, scripture reading
  • Attending church
  • Inspirational music, such as hymns–I also loved The Piano Guys
  • Inspirational videos
  • Quiet time
  • Journalling
  • Time outside in the sunshine and fresh air
  • Gentle exercise
  • Medications

The list could go on and your list might be different than mine.

The key thing to remember here is that this time in complete darkness will eventually pass.  The sun will begin to rise.  You will soon see the grey light of dawn instead of the black of night.

I fully acknowledge that even with my emotional flashlights, I could not have made it through the darkness of depression without the Light of the World, my Savior, Jesus Christ.  Is there a way out without Him?  I don’t know, because I’ve never tried to do it alone.  I know that He is the reason I am where I am today.  I wouldn’t have even been able to operate my emotional flashlights without His help.   Because of what I have been through, I know that there is no darkness so deep, that the Savior’s light cannot penetrate.

Maybe you aren’t so far gone.  Maybe this isn’t something you subscribe to.  If that’s the case, focus on the emotional flashlights themselves and hold on tight until the sun begins to rise and depression begins to lift.  The process might be slow, as it was for me.  But focus on the progress you are making.  Keep on moving forward as best you can.  And keep hoping for better days ahead.

Eventually, the sun will rise.

Overstimulated

The clinking of dishes;

The lights;

The “Mom, I’m hungry.”  “He’s hitting me.”  “Can you play with me?”  “What’s for dinner?”

The piles of laundry;

The overflowing dirty dishes;

The homework;

The crying infant;

The endless varieties of ketchup;

The music;

The shoulder tapping;

The blaring of the television;

If you are a parent, you might be laughing (or crying) right now, because this sounds like typical things encounter all day long.  If you aren’t a parent, though, I am sure you can still relate to the concept that we are constantly barraged by stimulus of every kind all day long.  Everywhere we go, we are we are seeing, hearing and touching things.  In good health, all of this stimuli is just part of the daily routine and we may not even take note of it.  When dealing with severe emotional pain from depression, however, this constant assault on our senses can take our symptoms from bad to worse.

As a mother, I have 4 built-in sources of almost constant auditory, visual and tactile stimuli which originate from each of my 4 children.  I also have the visual stimuli of my environment, which often is in one of the varying stages of getting messy or getting clean.  All of this input was too much for my ill mind but I didn’t really have much choice–I had to live with it.  I learned, therefore, that it was essential for me to be very selective in what additional stimuli I was allowing into my life in order to survive the worst of this mental pain.  I also found ways of doing what had to be done, in the easiest way possible to limit the load on my delicate mind.

If you are in a similar situation with your mental health, I hope some of what I share here will be helpful to you.  Remember, the key here is to lighten the load on our minds by limiting the stimuli our brains have to process.

Here are some things I stopped doing in my life to give my brain a break:

  • I didn’t initiate many interactions with my children, I would let them come to me for the most part. (They did come to me, often–trust me).
    • Along with this, I learned to listen and interact without emotionally extending myself, or in other words, not getting emotionally involved.  I learned to be more emotionally passive in my interactions.  This was essential due the high volume of interactions I had to participate in everyday.
  • Situations where I had to be physically present (such as going to church meetings) I would do my best to tune out whatever I didn’t absolutely have to listen to.
  • I limited my social interactions because these would always increase my pain.
  • I limited time spent listening to loud music as the added noise would often increase my pain.
  • I stopped multi tasking. This was much too taxing for my brain.
  • I eliminated any media that was really action-packed, intense, or loud as this would increase my distress.  In fact, I reduced my media consumption in general.
  • I limited time in “busy” environments, such as the grocery store.

Here are some things I started doing to help give my brain rest:

  • I set aside about an hour each day for quiet alone time. When the kids were home from school for the summer, this meant all of my children had to participate in quiet time when I did. When my older children were in school, I did this while my baby napped. I cannot stress enough how essential this was! It still is, in fact.
  • I had my children do a large share of the family chores. They were all old enough to help. This improved the stimuli from my environment without me having to do it all myself.  (We still do this in our family).
  • I would remove myself from a situation when I started to feel an increase in pain. For example, this meant that sometimes I didn’t eat dinner with my family, because I needed a break in the quiet.
  • I got rid of a lot of possessions, with my husband’s help. I found it difficult to tune out my environment when it was a mess or when excess “things” were constantly assaulting my eyes. I actually went so far as to take most of the pictures and decor down in my house. I just really needed to see blank, empty space. This helped me a lot.

These are not exhaustive lists by any means and many of these of individualized to my circumstances, but hopefully this gives you a starting point from which you can form your own plan to decrease the load on your mind by limiting the stimuli in your life.

Does this make sense?  How have you coped with mental pain from depression?  I’d love to hear your suggestions.

From Traumatized to Trying Again

The pain and darkness of my depression were so severe, constant and intense, that for a long time, even after these symptoms started to let up, I felt traumatized by having lived through it.  The thought of ever digressing back into that nightmare filled me with fear.  I hoped and prayed that it would be a steady path up and out of depression because I knew I could not bear that again.  It was nothing short of a nightmare, come alive.

In the years following the initial onset of my depression, my symptoms did, very slowly continue to improve.  The progress was painfully slow, however and I wondered time and again if I would ever be free of it entirely.

In the past, when I enjoyed a period of good health, I relished in having a challenge.  I loved pushing myself to do the best I could at whatever I was involved in.  I enjoyed the burn in my lungs and legs from doing a long run outside.  I enjoyed yoga and pushed myself to greater strength by doing challenging poses.  But at this point in time–while recovering from depression, I had absolutely no desire to push myself to do anything difficult.  This was completely understandable.

I was living the greatest challenge of my life!  Every moment was a test of my mental fortitude and endurance–I knew I couldn’t add anything difficult to that or else I would break completely.

My favorite answer became, “I can’t.”  “I can’t participate in that right now.”  “I can’t help with that right now.”  “I can’t do that much at this time.”  “I’m not up for that challenge right now.”  And I wasn’t exaggerating or just “not trying”–this was me, doing the best I could and my best was often, “I can’t–I’ve got my plate already nice and full.”

But as depression continued to dissipate over the long run, I started to feel like I really wanted to do more.  But I had been telling myself and everyone else, “I can’t” for so long, that it became a trained, habitual response at this point, rather than a reflection of reality.  I wanted to try but I kept telling myself, “I can’t.”  And it was not helping my depression, in fact, it was keeping me down.

Finally, several months ago, I started thinking how nice it might be to join a gym–not so I could really push myself, but just so that I could get out of the house and do something just for me.  I spoke to a friend about it and chewed on the idea for several months.  Then, just a couple months ago, my sister in law started talking about joining a gym and ended up persuading me to join with her.  I did!

It felt like sweet victory to be able to tell myself, “I can” after so long of telling myself the opposite.

I have been to the gym almost ever day for the last month or so.  And let me tell you, this has become the highlight of my day!  I do the elliptical machine while I watch HGTV and listen to my favorite tunes– and found that this is way funner than I imagined it would be.  It has changed my “I can’t” into “I can do this!!  I can do hard things again!”

I am not exaggerating when I tell you how happy this makes me.  It helps me see how far I have come.  It helps me see that I have more power over my situation than I sometimes realize.

Sometimes we need a little push, either from ourselves or someone we love to jump that hurtle and propel us forward.  I’m grateful for my sister in law for helping me do this.

From traumatized, to trying again.  That is sweet victory!!

How have you overcome your own self-defeating habits?  Do you have someone in your life that helps you when you need a push?

Logic, Your Greatest Tool

When the greatest pain and darkness of my depression started to lift, I was left with an overall feeling of sadness as well as a constant barrage of negative thoughts and feelings. I would often overreact, inwardly, in a very negative way to most situations that arose in my life. I lived in a dark gray fog of general unhappiness, despite my best efforts to change this.

I was often caught in circling negative mental dialogue. My feelings were real and try as I might I could not get to a good place emotionally. I was riding these unhappy waves and trying to make sense of them but this never helped.

This went on for a period of years, increasing and decreasing at times, like the incoming and outgoing tide. But although some periods of time were easier than others, I would still find myself getting mentally “stuck” frequently.

For example, we had just moved to a new neighborhood and I shared, in a group setting at church, that I had struggled with mental illness and how I had been able to overcome a lot of it. I went home that day, immediately regretting my decision to share something so personal with a bunch of women I didn’t know. I had done it, of course, to hopefully help someone else but I couldn’t shake my regrets and worries. For a period of a couple weeks I was stuck, mentally on this one instance, trying to figure out how I could feel better about it. My thoughts went in circles and I couldn’t get out. I was constantly distressed and worried. Logically, I could tell myself that everyone had already forgotten it and I should too but I still couldn’t stop my swirling feelings.

Finally, I told my husband my worries. He heard me out and asked me if I could logically see that I didn’t need to worry about it anymore. I told him that I could, but I realized, in that moment, that I wasn’t trusting my logic. I was being ruled by my feelings.

My feelings were telling me something was wrong and I needed to fix it, so I believed them.

I am very in tune with my feelings and tend to be led by them rather than logic. To disregard my feelings and fully trust the logic went against my natural inclinations. However, I learned that acquiring this skill would be very helpful in helping me see through the foggy storm of my swirling thoughts and emotions, to the truth of the situation.

Depression lies to us, constantly. It tells us we are failing. It whispers we aren’t good enough, and that we aren’t doing enough. It makes us suspicious of other people’s motives and makes friends look like enemies. It twists everything on its head.

I’ve learned that I can’t trust what depression tells me.

I found, that I had greater peace when I used logic to combat depression’s lies. But I had to trust the logic and I had to get off the wave ride of swirling emotions to do this. It’s not easy at first, but with practice it has become more natural. I find, in general that I approach life now with more logic, rather than letting my feelings lead.

This may seem simple, and it is. But when you are in a constant fog, and your depressed brain is lying to you, it’s really hard to navigate what is true and real. But it took me a very long time to get to this place while wading through deep depression. If you are stuck in negative emotions about something, try it. If you need help, ask a friend to give you a logical perspective on the situation and if it seems sound, trust it. You will find, as I have, that logic is one of your greatest tools in combatting depression.

Try it! And let me know how it goes.