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.

Above and Below

Stand at the foot of the hill.

Gaze at the crest as it looms above,

Silhouetted against the night sky,

Suddenly light in comparison.

A streak of cloud, the rounded edges of treetops.

To feel small in the furrows between the tall corn stalks

To feel broad and expansive in the dampened dark of night

A Late Summer’s Night

Crisp air punctuated by the smell of pine

Crickets in the thickets of roadside grass

Their calls cycling faster and faster as I pass, like a card in bicycle spokes

Highbeams illuminate the trunks of trees lined up like the walls of tunnels

Unclear whether the fog films the windshield inside or out 

In the cool of night, summer falls away

Gloaming

I love that there is a line of light on the horizon,

a gleam just beyond

A glow of grey at the billowing edge of green,

the globes atop tree branches

It is dark in the corners –

But there, far away, it is bright.

For All Mothers

Three years ago, Kelly Kittel began her journey of book tours and signings, publicity and PR for her newly published memoir, Breathe: A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict.  I’d journeyed with her, on parallel paths, in a shared writing group for months before.  Kelly has journeyed today to Washington, D.C. to advocate for appropriate allocation of funding for maternal health programs.

In December 2016, the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Dark Act of 2015 was signed into law.  Today and tomorrow scores of women visit the Capitol to discuss how to enact programs highlighted by the legislation.  It’s wonderful to see my news feeds filled with faces I’ve met in my maternal health circles, gathering together at the core of our country, for the health of mothers.

Kelly and I have had different journeys in motherhood.  She will be speaking to bereavement and infant loss.  She is speaking from her own personal experience.  My personal experience is with postpartum depression.  I was honored and touched that she asked me to give her my take on the care I’d received postpartum and what it may have lacked; to bring a firsthand account of what mothers in Rhode Island might need to recover and thrive despite postpartum depression.

To be a mother is to know the utmost joy and deepest despair.  While our manner of grief might differ, we all embody the emotion.  I thank Kelly Kittel for taking hers, and mine, on her latest journey.


More info on this initiative:

http://mmhcoalition.com/advocacy-days/

http://mmhcoalition.com/impact/

String Theory

The baby is screaming.

She fell asleep during her bedtime feeding, exhausted from the non-nap she took, but woke as I dressed her in pajamas. Two of her sisters came to her crib-side to stem the tide of tears, only prolonging the cry-it-out of which she is desperately in need.

My husband has finally comforted her and there is silence. I’m not sure it will last once she leaves his arms.

I’m sitting in the living room in the dark. In a singular armchair in the corner because it’s the farthest away from couch command central I spend those hours of nursing/napping with the baby during the day.

I screamed when I saw the previously smooth comforter on my bed had been rumpled like the ridges of wet sand left by a receding wave. I swore when I saw that said rumpling slid most of the clean load of laundry I’d dumped on the bed for folding onto the floor.   I flung dirty, yet previously sorted, clothes back into their piles from where they’d been strewn across the hallway. I didn’t even know what to do when I found one of my few personal care products had been removed from the basket on my dresser and moved to the baby’s.

It’s all a violation. After a long day of doing everything for everyone, to have even one little bit of it undone is a slap in the face. Or a turning of a screw tightening my already taut strings into a discordant twang.

Especially in my room.

Do not take what little I have for myself. What little sanctuary I have.

That being said, if the sight of one misplaced purple hair care bottle disturbs me so, I think it’s safe to say I need a break.

It’s time to scale back. Sit apart. Self care.

However, I realized earlier today that, except for two, all of our weekends throughout the entire summer are booked. Summer hasn’t even started yet! A good number of those are family time and travel, which is, of course, good. But it’s a major weight on my ever-forward-looking and always-cognizant-of-what-needs-to-be-done mind.

It’s also a reminder that a place where I’ve fallen short is discriminately choosing what absolutely adds to the quality of our lives and what would just be nice if we had time; that I need to clearly and effectively communicate my desires and capabilities – for what works for me and us, not others.

Because I’m obviously feeling stretched to the limit tonight and stuff like this shouldn’t make me break.

guitar_neck_and_strings_by_mikithemaus-d3ima5n

Simply See

Home again, and Jane and I are going walkabout.  I have her rigged on my shoulders in the backpack.  Distributed throughout the aluminum frame and snugged straps, her weight dissipates to nothing.  After all, she weighs little more than a good-sized chicken.  As we step into the yard, I twist my neck to get a look at her face and find her looking out over the valley below.  Her eyes are wide and steady beneath the brim of her floppy cap.  How far out of infancy do we lose this gaze, with its utter absence of expectation or prejudice?  What is it like to simply see what is before you, without the skew of context?

from Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry

Aspect Ratio

I can put myself in the labor bed for the birth of my third child.  I can see the scene unfold.  I can hear the conversations with my midwife.  I remember how, even at the height of contractions with delivery imminent, I still hadn’t come to grips with the fact that I was pregnant.

I remember thinking, but wait, I’m not ready.  I haven’t reconciled this with myself yet, with the universe.

The universe didn’t care.  Nature didn’t care.  My body and the baby didn’t care.  It was time – whether I was ready or not.

I think on a cellular level I knew that pushing out that child without owning the pregnancy would only lead to trouble.  The basest parts of the body do not lie.

I grew that baby with the utmost care.  Once she was this side of the womb, I was only attentive.

But my soul was squeezed by internal pressures; my own mind that couldn’t accept this path only because I hadn’t carved it.

And so, I was amazed by the wonder that accompanied an unplanned fourth pregnancy.  Simply bowled over by the joy that flooded me when they placed her on my breast.  While I had been afraid to plunge into the depth of my love for my third, for fear that someone would take her from me, it just happened with my fourth.

And yet, because any footprints make deep imprints on the psyche, a year later now, I look at my pregnant self and cannot believe that is me.  Was that my life?  Was that a mere year ago?  How can I reconcile that exhausted, frumpy, wallowing-in-her-own-skin IMG_20160430_150358162person with who I am just a year later?  I hate that I look so miserable when pregnant.  Because of my problems in the past, I look at any such photo and second-guess myself.  Was I feeling that same way then?  Struggling the same?  So paranoid, scared, to fall into that trough – even on a timeline that has already elapsed – I doubt what’s right in front of me.

My grey matter muscle memory worries that if I have a hard time measuring this last year of my newborn’s life, that I look at this picture of me a mere year ago and see an alternate reality – am I not in just as much denial this time as the last?  If I am still getting used to the idea of having a baby and she’s turning the corner to one year-old, doesn’t that mean I am putting up some of those same walls?

NO.

Will I forever be haunted by the dark feelings and stilted growth of my postpartum depression?  Yes.  Will it make me paranoid and second-guess myself?  Right now anyway.  Is it possible to have mind and heart blown during any childbearing and rearing experience – ‘normal’ or otherwise?  Yes.

It’s so easy to let past experiences form new fears and worries.  Just like losing it with the older kids or having a low day makes me worry I’m having a relapse.  Knowing the signs and how to help ourselves is key; expecting perfection and punishing ourselves is crap.

So maybe I’ll just look at those pregnant photos of me and say, no wonder I look like rough; growing a kid is rough work.  Maybe I’ll just seal them in her baby book and never look at them again.  I certainly need to stop looking at them trying to find signs of trouble.

Notice, though, that I haven’t even begun to look at the newborn photos for this go-round.

On This Day

11 months, 2 weeks ago, I was trudging through the day-to-day like an elephant on two legs in an animated film.  I was full with pregnancy, with baby, aches and pains, in bladder, daily chaos, and exhaustion.  I was in some sort of suspended stasis; neither did I want to be pregnant any longer nor did I want the onslaught of labor and care of a newborn.

Thanks to the equally annoying, nostalgic, and awe-inspiring features of technological devices and their applications, I can see last week, this week, today in tidy little boxes of unasked-for updates.  That me has tired eyes, a wan smile, the ruddy mask of pregnancy fingering its way across my face.  Except for the dropped weight, that me hasn’t changed much in the last near year.

And yet, looking at that me, it seems like another life.

Looking at this other life in my arms, I feel like she’s just arrived and yet, that other, older me in the photos is saying she’s been here for eons.

For the growing she’s done, I’ve done.  For the countless hours of lost sleep, the endless ribbon of days and nights spooled out and folded in and around each other.

It’s time to celebrate her first year of life, but she still feels brand new to me.  How has this time elapsed without my say so?  For all the holding and staring and loving, I couldn’t hold her trapped in time with my gaze.

But if I stay focused on her in this day, all the others, past and present, will fall away.

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday

M’aider: help me

repeated three times in a row

internationally recognized distress call

Next 31 days – third May I’ve tackled mental health issues for a month straight

It is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, the beginning of a month dedicated to opening dialogue and resources to all women in the perinatal realm; that is, attempting to conceive, prenatal, postpartum, and living the dream.  There are air quotes around that last phrase there – because sometimes mothering can be a nightmare – for too many reasons to list here, but May is a month dedicated to the mental health of mothers, be their struggles situational, emotional, or physical.

As maternal mental health is an issue close to my heart – and psyche – I endeavor to share my own experiences throughout this month and explore others’ and share information.  The fact that I haven’t made it each May since the inception of this blog is an illustrative example of my life and the raison d’etre of the blog itself.

While I was blogging in 2012, I’d only just started my fifth month.  And while I’d signed my name in ink and blood on its byline, I don’t know that I was fully in mind of where my daily life and mental health intersected.  By 2013, I felt comfortable enough in the platform to tackle a month-long series to raise mental health awareness and work to eradicate stigma.  Even then, I still saw the month as other; a separate function of my blog.  I showcased the fabulous Blog for Mental Health Project, but hadn’t taken the pledge myself, feeling unworthy since my blog wasn’t dedicated solely to discussion of mental illness and health.  By 2014, I was ready to laser my focus on not only mental illness, but the flavor that burned the back of my tongue after the birth of my third, inciting this whole process: maternal mental health.  Ironically, this laser focus blew everything wide open.  I began to realize that my blog was always focused on mental health even if I wasn’t discussing DSM or sharing the latest research; because mental health, whether an individual accepts it or not, affects every. aspect. of. one’s. life.  

And then, 2015, I didn’t log daily posts during May.  Perhaps I was burned out by the idea of daily posts with my three minions around.  Maybe I felt I’d saturated my serial idea.   I know I wasn’t naive enough to think I’d covered it all.  Maybe I was naive enough to think my life had hit critical mass and I didn’t have the time.

Because in May of 2016, irony of all ironies, I gave birth to my fourth child.  Another surprise.  Another girl.  But a new beginning with no mental health issues – other than the low-grade ones I’d been dealing with for the previous seven years.  Needless to say, a month-long daily series did not occur with a newborn.

Enter 2017.  I’m going to try to climb back on the horse, though it may look more like the dark ride of the ring wraith than the victorious march of the Mother of Dragons.

I’m not promising anything – except my ever-continuing support of all those struggling with mental health issues.

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