Saturday, May 2
Monday, March 30
Saturday, March 14
Dear me, two days ago:
To the brave woman(even though you don't feel it right now) who is beginning to taper off one of her meds.
It's going to be ok. I want you to know that in just two days, you will feel ok again. Yes, you'll have to go through this shit again next week, or the week after. It might feel worse. It might go better. Let next week deal with itself, ok? So here are some truths that you should know, about today, next week and the rest of your life, whether that's medicated or not:
- You are not that person. The one you are so afraid of becoming. You are experiencing withdrawal symptoms and that is all. It's not you, it's them. It's chemistry. You are not an angry person. You are not a fearful anxious person. You are a good, kind and loving woman, who loves her babies, her husband, her cats, her job. You might feel like that was just a hoax, like the drugs were masking the 'real you'. This, my love, is a lie. In just a few days you will again feel calm, content, loving, patient, creative, inspired... The list could go on. THAT is the real you, not this trembling half person that you feel right now.
- Use your net. Call the village. Get in touch with people who have been there, in that trembling half life between medicated and un-medicated. They will know what to do, what to say. They're so good at this stuff, just like you are, when you're not in this stupid place. Get someone else to pick up the kids from school. Get someone to take the toddler away for the day. Cancel your appointments and get back into your pyjamas. This is a type of illness, this half-life, and you should treat it thus. Call your husband, he's used to reassuring you that you're awesome. Write to yourself, write to someone else, just allow the sad angry words to pour out of yourself, it's so cathartic. The words need to come out, or they'll fester and dig their claws down until they become a part of you. Dig them out, squeeze them out.
- You're doing this for the right reason. You might be doubting that right now, you might think "what was so important that I thought I should try this lark?". If there was ever a reason to come off a medication, it's new life. It's the wanting of more new life, wanting to create life. It's the wanting to be there as other lives are transformed. It's that urge, that passion you have to be there for those women, just as you wished someone was there for you, someone passionate and capable and experienced and trustworthy and respectful. You want to be a placeholder, a sacred helpmate, a protector of that precious space where one becomes two. This is a GOOD REASON. Don't doubt it now. And don't doubt for a second that this is not what you were supposed to do... All of the threads of your life have been coming together to weave this story for you. It can't not happen.
- If it doesn't work, it will be ok. Maybe it's not going to work out, this breaking up with this medication. You'll figure something out. There will be other options. There are always other options. If there's anything you care about deeply (when you're feeling good), it's that we all have options, all the time. There are always other doors, other answers. Don't panic. Treat yourself like a client, remind yourself that you are in charge of your destiny (cheese alert!), that you just have to better informed. Be better informed, ok? You love researching stuff, research this. Know your options. Don't for a second believe that you are trapped in anything.
-You'll catch yourself saying a couple of times, it's not me, it's you. That is really good thing to say, say it more.
Dear meds, it's not me, it's you.
Know yourself. Trust yourself. Trust your team. Call the village. Be the village. In two days, you will be feeling so much better, I promise. Xx
Thursday, September 18
So I'd like to challenge this notion that long-term, chronic Depression = Not Coping. I don't believe that the above equation is accurate, that the one necessarily equals the other. Here's the thing. Are you ready for the thing? Here it is. I've had depression for, like, ever. But I'm not a mess. I'm doing just fine - maybe not great - but fine. Let's look at today's example.
I wake up, as usual, around 7.30; I can hear the big kids playing and pray to whatever deity is in charge of morning routines that they will stay happily playing for at least another 2 hours. I close my eyes tight and try to go back to sleep. At 8 am, the big kids come in and bounce on me and declare their starvation to be at an all time high. I force myself out of bed, trying to ignore the howling sadness in my head at having to leave the blankets, and make them breakfast. I know they will want seconds shortly, but I still go back to bed again, bury my face under the duvet, pull the cat close and try not to think about the fact that it is another day. The alarm on the tablet in the lounge goes off at 8.31, as it has every morning this week... I wonder for the millionth time which evil creature set this random alarm, and trudge out to turn it off. M and L are asking for seconds, and when I say 'asking', I mean of course that as soon as I walk into the room they thrust their bowls in my direction and shout "More Weetbix!!" without taking their eyes off Ice Age: Continental Drift. I ask them to ask nicely and they both shout "more weetbix PLEASE!". At this stage FR is crying, and has been for about ten minutes. I make the kids seconds, FR's first bowl of brekkie, pour soy milk over my muesli and turn the coffee machine on. Like a waitress at a diner I speed back holding 4 separate bowls in my hands and arms, dump them down, and go retrieve the angry toddler. With her on my hip I am back in the kitchen making my coffee, thankful once again that we were given this Nespresso machine(yes yes they're the worst, I'm sorry) that enables me to make a decent flat white with only one hand free. When we used a good old-fashioned espresso machine I used to have to hold the steam button with one hand and the milk frothing jug with the other, with the baby clasped in between my body and the bench.
Fast forward to an hour later, and at quarter to 10 everyone is dressed, including myself, and M is crying about something. But we are all dressed and fed, and not only that but I have managed a second cup of coffee, and semi-folded the washing that was hanging on the airers in our lounge. I find it incredibly hard to stay positive when my oldest is upset, because she is basically a small version of me, and her weeping and wailing over completely irrational things is driving me nuts. And yet, somehow, I don't even feel like crying. I repeat the same phrases to her over and over, albeit through gritted teeth, while I help the almost-2 yr old get the peg basket off the airer. I feel gratitude, yet again, that pegs were ever invented. I use my mindfulness skills, and placing my hand on my chest, observe and describe to myself my current feelings. Frustration, sadness, strength, determination. I let the frustration and sadness just be, and remind myself that, like all feelings, they will soon float away.
It is now about 2.30pm. Today I have had a visitor(educational psychologist), navigated two separate tantrums at the same time without losing my temper, successfully ignored a toddlers misbehaviour, taken the kids out to the mall to purchase tea-towels and kids shoes, bought the kids donuts for their lovely behaviour whilst out, come back home, put on a load of washing, fed a toddler her bottle and put her to bed(with her new shoes clasped in her arms, obviously), made myself and the biggies some lunch, hung out the washing, played a game of memory with L while encouraging M to write her little story for our school visit tomorrow, and now I'm writing a freaking blog post.
You guys, this is not what Not Coping looks like. This, to me, is just what every single day looks like. I am guaranteed, today, to feel sadness, grief, anger, despair and frustration - and also to feel joy, happiness, gratitude and love. This is Coping. This has been my life for so long, and while every fiber in my being still longs for a day when I do not face into the darkness as I awake, for a day when the deepest most inner thoughts in my head are a swirl of black that I try to avoid, this is Coping. This is doing pretty damn well awesome. My kids are ALWAYS fed. My kids are ALWAYS dressed. They know that they are loved. My toddler wears clean nappies, has 3 bottles of milk a day and laughs, and makes me laugh a lot.
Yes, some days are really bad. Some days I allow the cloud to overtake me, and I allow myself to grieve for my constant grief. I allow myself those days now, because I know they will pass, and I know that the best way to COPE on those days is to nurture myself as I would a small child, wrapping myself in soft comfortable clothes, pouring myself warm drinks, allowing the children to watch infinite movies, and simply let myself be. This is Coping. I am always glad for my 3 gorgeous children. I always think about wanting more children, that's how much I love them. I always smile when I see the cushions on the couch that I love so much. I always laugh out loud, every day.
Tuesday, September 9
My Pinterest boards are filled with pictures of tiny log cabins, kitchens with water on pump and giant tree slabs for furniture. I constantly envision peeling potatoes on the back doorstep with my children(again, squatting), or milking a goat, or our family clustered around a small open brazier, warming our calloused hands. I mean, I really want to do this stuff. But it's easy to dream about this idyllic life, while warming our hands by the light of a giant TV, eating takeaways and arguing about Masterchef...
So last week when my friend announced that my microwave had just stopped working, I honestly just shrugged and said, 'ok'. And then when my husband was looking up microwave prices online, and trying to figure out were it would fit it in our budget(quick answer - it doesn't), I told him to settle down. We'd be fine, I told him. And I really thought we would be. I have several friends without microwaves who do FINE.
And we have been, for the most part. One of my go-to, super-quick meals for the toddler is some pasta(precooked, in the fridge) with some grated cheese and mixed frozen veg, with some ham thrown in for protein.... pop it all in a bowl, zap it for about 30 seconds, give or take, stir it up so the cheese melts through, and you're done! Oh, and please spare me the lecture about giving your kids only fresh and organic food. My kids are well taken-care-of.
So instead, Little-House-On-The-Prairie style, I popped it in a wee saucepan and stirred it over a low heat. So cute! So rustic! So time-consuming!
I want to get some bread out of the freezer and defrost it! I want to melt some grated cheese over a bit of pasta REALLY FAST! I want to warm up a bottle of milk in exactly 25 seconds! I want the cuteness of the toddler in front of the microwave, chirping 'beep beep beep' hopefully!
What I want is a gosh darned microwave. One that whirs and beeps and glows and heats.
Rustic be damned.
PS let me know if anyone if the Auckland area has a spare microwave! Beep beep beep!
Saturday, August 30
Now, I'm no theologian, but the general gist of the New Testament, back when I read the thing, was that there was no such thing as a problem child. Indeed the whole 'vibe' of the Gospel seemed to loosely be that you didn't fix yourself, but went up to the Son of God and said, "here, work with this! This is me!" and then things fell into place. So this seems to be in contrast to those statements that say: You are the problem. You should not be here. You should just try harder to serve everybody and be happy.
So when I titled this post "Why I 'suck' at going to church", it was not actually me being down on myself or blaming myself. I'm about 75% sure that I don't 'suck' at going to church, and that's a pretty high score for a person with my self-esteem to give myself. But it is one of those areas where I can look back at the last 15 years of my life and say without a doubt that I have contributed to my churches. Countless youth missions and years working in Sunday preschool? Tick. Leadership at holiday programs? Tick. Contributor to and occasional leader of worship music? Tick. Helped start up not one, but two different Mainly Music programs at two very different churches? Tick. Washer of many dishes? Tick. So why haven't I done better at church? Why haven't I been happier? My church history reads like any evangelical 'good kid's yearbook.
The problem, I believe(my opinion only), is that my journey with mental illness has made it increasingly hard to be a fully included member of anything. I get it, it's hard to love someone with 'baggage'. I'm easily hurt, because I love easily. I attach myself unwisely to people who don't care anywhere near as much about me. Is this part and parcel of Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder? Probably. Does this mean I don't get to participate in church? I don't think so.
Having chronic depression, like a swollen tumour across one's shoulders and back, hobbling like Igor, messes with a lot of systems in my brain. Poor brain. In terms of faith, it means(deep breath)... that I have never personally felt the presence of God in my life. I've never felt that buzz. Does that make me doubt Her existence? Hells yeah. Which is why, for me, participation was the way that I felt tangible proof of my faith. I had to DO the thing so that I could SEE that there was a thing. For me, seeing and doing is believing. Maybe this explains why I never doubted God's existence and love for me when I was at a small conservative church where I could do as much as I wanted, no previous qualifications needed. I struggled so much with the politics, with the theology, with the gut content of every sermon at Church No. 1, but I could still sing on the worship team and help out in the creche and lead youth teams and preach at the youth services and help revamp the Sunday School. I could work out the Gospel with my hands and arms, and see it with my own two eyes. I left eventually after my post-natal depression climaxed with an overnight stay in hospital and yet I couldn't tell anyone at church about it. I didn't want secrets like that. I needed to be supported with my mental illness, not judged.
At Church No. 2 it turned out to be the opposite. I was drawn to it for its content, its slightly-more-liberal-reading of the Bible, its tolerance for different views, its stellar music. The leaders were funny, clever and erudite, yet somewhat unapproachable. What I didn't see at the beginning was that the strength of its purpose, its clever sermons and passionate talk of community, was that as a fairly young church plant, the inner core of about 20 or 30 people(all individually amazing, loving, faithful, awesome people) were close close friends who had long histories with each other. This made for a strong, passionate core from which to spiral off its various ministries. It also made for the most lovable non-snobby clique ever.
Unfortunately, my early involvement with this group, who were welcoming and affable and lovely, was untenable long term because of my lack of history with them, and ended in pain and hurt - for me.
Thursday, January 30
Dum dum DUUUUUMM!
You've heard of it, yes? In fact, you've HEARD IT. The crying, the whining, the gently escalating hum of anxious baby noises as they pick up the clues of a departure. The roar down the corridor as you flee the scene, slam the door, drop the keys, pick up the keys, rev the engine...
At times it can be flattering, a sideways glance and two fat-ringed hands reaching for you. Yes you. You're their favourite. And you know you should feel grateful that they love you. Gratified that they need you. But the crescendo of cries twists your gut, filling you with guilt, resentment, more guilt, anger, frustration, concern, a sense of feeling trapped... Oh man, I know it well.
So, separation anxiety. You've probably read a bunch about it. It's generally a good sign. They, our progeny, are strongly emotionally attached to us, their caregiver. If they didn't roar, flap their hands, toddle desperately after you, this would be a warning sign. You, Me, We, are their safe place. So first of all, give yourself a HIGH FIVE!
Now, how do we stop this craziness from ruining our lives?
I've had 3 different children, with 3 totally different styles of dealing with things. My eldest, M, who is now 8, would cry and cry, heartbroken sobs. Her kindy teacher, grandmother, sunday-school teacher, and whoever else was doing the awful deed would gentle peel her shuddering wiry frame off me, and would then be, in turn, in her death grip. It was utterly heart-wrenching. But M had a helper, a small white soft-toy puppy named, well, Puppy. And when I turned to leave, I would see Puppy clenched in her fist as she reached for me from beyond the bead curtain. And Puppy was there for her. In fact, at one enterprising child-care centre, a special home was made for Puppy, a much-painted and glue-spattered cardboard house, and thus M would leave me for Puppy, and then eventually, as her breathing steadied and the sobs lessened, she would leave Puppy in his lovely box, and venture forth into the sunlight. Thank goodness for Puppy!
I did not cope very well with M's neediness. I felt trapped, isolated and completely alone in the task of caring for her, despite my husbands desperate attempts to reach out to us, and my depression and her depression seemed to entwine into one mass of sad girl-dom. So I would leave. I had to! I would sneak out during nap-time, leaving hubby in charge and go to the beach and sit, watching the waves for hours. Or I would point at a bird, something shiny over there, or turn on her favourite show, all to distract from the fact that I was running away. I think all of us have probably distracted, or run, or hid... and at times it is entirely necessary. I still mis-direct small people daily, just so that I can run off and speed-pee. But I don't think it's a way to cure or even to cope with Separation Anxiety.
My second child, L, who is turning 6 in a couple of months, was a different kettle of fish. He attached himself to everyone as a baby, merrily swinging from arm to arm like a hairy little chimp. I mean, yes, he wanted me more than anyone else, but if I wasn't available, he'd just make do. He went through the usual clingy stage, and then eventually progressed onto the separation anxiety. But instead of weeping for hours, he chose to instead roar angrily and tearfully when clawed from my arms, and then, as soon as I was out of the room, he was fine. Like, annoyingly, cheerfully fine. And I would be left with the memory of his tear-stained face, his red open mouth, his flailing hands.... and feel like shit for the rest of the day. And L? He would dig in sandpits, paint anything and everything, swing on tires and generally enjoy an awesome day at kindy. Him I did not distract as much, nor run from. His kindy teacher, firmly clasping his twisting roaring little body, would carry him to the kitchen window where he could see me walking away, and I would always turn at the letterbox, and wave at him, blow kisses, and walk steadfastly away. Did it make it less awful for me? No, not really. But it felt more, I don't know, honest. I wasn't tricking him. I was showing him that I, his mama, was confident that he'd be ok, and I was gifting him my final wave to show: I love you, I'm going, I'll be back.
My third child, FR, is, again, a different person. Seriously, you'd think by now I'd have this sussed, right? FR was not clingy until about 12 months, a little bit late, and to tell the truth, when she did start needing ME more than HIM, I felt a bit relieved. What was this, an emotional zombie? But then she hit the big SA with a bang. I mean, big bada boom. This child can SMELL my presence, or lack of, even while sleeping... it's the hand-to-heart truth, ANY time I leave the house while she is napping during the day, no matter at what point in her sleep cycle, she lifts her head abruptly, sniffs the air like a hungry lion-cub, and then that's it. Snap. Caught out. Which means that if I leave while she's sleeping peacefully, she will always wake up and spend the next hour or so pacing around the house shouting at her darling daddy, demanding my swift return. Which in turn means that I should NOT try and run errands while she naps, because then her nap is ruined for the day. But you know what? I'm ok with not slipping out secretly. If I have to leave her, I try to make it a time when she is happy, well-fed and generally busy... but I don't hope that her play will keep her distracted. I usually walk up to her, or call her name out, and when she looks up at me, her head cocked to one side sparrow-like, I say to her: "hey FR, mama's just going to go out and do some jobs, nana's here now and she's the boss, ok? I'll be right back in a little while, I love you lots!" And if she starts to whimper or hold out her arms, then I go to her and pick her up and hug her really hard. And then I pass her to nana, or whoever is amazing enough to look after my children for me, or put her gently down at her game, wave goodbye, and leave.
Does this technique cure Separation Anxiety? Nope. Does Separation Anxiety need curing? I don't think so. It's a perfectly normal part of our children's development, another notch on the chart as their little lines soar upwards, and it WILL NOT LAST FOREVER. I can say that as a fact, because I know it, because I've seen it. There WILL be a time, with all honesty I'm telling you, that you will feel slightly miffed at the surly 'bye', the lack of any head-movement from a book or screen, and you will feel ever so slightly disappointed that your absence causes no pain. And when my big girl was little, I could not see the future, I could not see hope, I could not see that there would ever be a time when she would not need me with every fibre in her strange little self, and I was completely overwhelmed.
But I've seen the future. It's a future where your children, my children, wave merrily out of car windows or at doors, confident in your steadfastness, your promised return. It's a future where they trust you, an ordinary person, so much that they can leave you and step forward, knowing that you will not let them down. You will ALWAYS be there.
So let's do away with curing Separation Anxiety shall we? Let's put the tricks, the magic-disappearing-acts away in a bag for now. They can be used now and then, when absolutely necessary. Let's learn how to bolster up our own confidence as caregivers, how to trust our own decisions of child-care and day-to-day work, so that we believe in what we are doing. So that we believe that leaving our children is necessary sometimes, and we believe it's for a good reason.
Don't hide from your baby, or run out the door in bare-feet, heels in hand, no, turn around, go back and say