If you’re just now joining me, as I share this five-part series outlining my journey with mental illness, please check out the more detailed information about this series in the beginning of the Part 1 and Part 2 posts. Seeing as how I did not edit the original version of the manuscript in any way before posting here, the blog that I reference towards the end of this post is in regards to this blog, First You Must Begin. Continue reading
Today I am sharing part two of my Mental Illness Awareness Series, which is the continuation of my journey with mental illness. Background information can be found in my previous post from this series. The short story is that the following is taken from my portion of an unpublished manuscript that was designed to bring increased understanding of mental illness. Continue reading
A couple of years ago, I had a friend approach me about contributing to a book she was writing. The purpose of her book was to bring increased understanding and awareness to the topic of mental illness. As she began to write it, she felt impressed to include other women she knew who suffered various degrees of mental illness. Having been open with her about my battle with mental illness, she invited me to contribute to her book. Unfortunately, that book has not been picked up yet. However, feeling passionate about the purpose of her book, and the cause as a whole, I have decided to share my portion of the manuscript here. My part was designed to comprise an entire chapter, which seems a bit much to process in one blog post. As a result, I am breaking my part of the manuscript into a five-part series. The first four posts will make up the chapter as it was written nearly two years ago. The fifth, and final, post will comprise my added insight that I have received since that time. Being that I have been diagnosed with having Bipolar II disorder, this series will wrap up on March 30th, which has been set aside as World Bipolar Day. I recently learned that this day was chosen because it is Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday, and it was believed that he probably had a bipolar disorder. Being that my mental illness was not first diagnosed as Bipolar II disorder, I felt it better to refer to this series as Mental Illness Awareness. I am all too familiar with a broad spectrum of mental illness symptoms. So, without further ado, I share with you my Mental Illness Awareness Series (Part 1 of 5)…
My husband will tell you that my battle with depression began the moment that I learned my mom had Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. While this news shattered my childish belief that my family was somehow exempt from tragedy, I consider that a time when devastating circumstances merely had a negative impact on my customarily cheerful outlook. I believe my true battle with depression began the first few days following the birth of my eldest child, Abigail. That’s when I began to notice the crippling effects of depression in my daily life.
Abigail arrived six weeks and one day early. We were, of course, completely caught off guard. Her early arrival came unexpected with no reason or cause. Every mother has a dynamic birth story; mine was comprised of confusion, excitement, fear, and anticipation. In less than 24 hours, I had gone from questioning the authenticity of each contraction to delivering my baby girl after four pushes and several failed attempts to slow down her premature birth. The moment I first heard Abigail cry out, I felt like I could take on the world. Giving birth was the most natural high I had ever experienced. It was everything after that point that didn’t live up to my dreams and expectations of childbearing. In my mind, she was supposed to be cleaned, wrapped, and laid sweetly in my arms. Instead she was poked, prodded, and then briefly held next to me for one quick picture and a peck on the cheek before being whisked away to the NICU.
It was three days before I even had the chance to hold my sweet baby girl. Even then, she was so fully wrapped in cords, intubation tubing, and padding that it hardly felt like we were connected. Of course, she still melted my heart in a million ways. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. In the moment, everything felt so surreal that it wasn’t until later that I realized how gypped and jaded I felt over the whole affair. I grew up with this idea of childbirth being a painful process that melted away the moment you held your baby. But I didn’t get to hold my baby the moment she was born. Instead, following her delivery, I sat alone in a hospital room waiting for my epidural to wear off so I could be cleared to see my daughter in the NICU. I thought, “This is not how it was supposed to go.”
Around the two-week mark, Abigail finally joined us at home. That was when I started to notice that I didn’t feel like myself anymore. Motherhood will certainly change you, but this felt different. I felt isolated and numb. The feelings of joy and zest that were once commonplace in my life were few and far between. Everything began to wear on me. I started to shut down. It got to the point that my brain couldn’t even process what it should be doing, let alone trying to complete such a task. I saved any ounce of energy I had for the needs of Abigail’s survival alone. To make matters worse, she was both colicky and dealing with acid reflux. I spent the larger portion of my day feeling defeated. I became jealous of my husband who got to leave for work. Then, upon his return home, I would be resentful of the smiles he would instantly receive from our baby girl. Again, I thought, “This is not how it was supposed to be.”
Before Abigail had even turned one month old, my husband saw the situation for what it was and knew I needed help. I was losing ground fast. At the time, he worked close to home and was able to come home for lunch. He left in the morning and gave me ONE chore to complete before his return for lunch. Just one.
We had a baby bottle warmer – one of those things that first-time moms think they can’t live without. The water inside needed to be changed. My one chore was to dump the water out and fill the cup back up. I didn’t have to clean it. I didn’t have to do any special treatment to it. I had to dump the water out and fill it back up. Guess what? I DID IT! I felt a brief moment of excitement having actually completed a task. My husband was so proud of me. He sincerely congratulated me and I enjoyed the satisfaction that came from that moment. This is what my life had come to. Prior to Abigail’s birth, I was successfully working full-time as an assistant to the CIO of a mortgage lending company and now dumping out water had become a great accomplishment.
As I sat in my 6-week follow-up appointment, my doctor asked me how I was feeling emotionally. I was so ignorant to the idea of postpartum depression (PPD) that I hadn’t even considered it at that point. Upon hearing his words, I began to cry. This whole time, I had figured it was just “baby blues” – those short-lived feelings of emotional instability that most moms feel after childbirth as their hormones adjust to non-pregnancy. My understanding was that PPD was designated for those who were so miserable they wanted to harm their babies. That was not me. I loved and adored my baby girl, even though our connection felt strained. Though, admittedly, I almost walked out on her one time just to stop from hearing the endless colicky crying. It was my emotional state that was the issue. It was my lack of desire to do anything. It was my realization that I was not finding joy in any of my usual activities nor was I accomplishing the basic daily tasks. I used to be so upbeat and cheerful that my brother would joke, “Have a bad day, Sara. It builds character.” Based on his belief, I gained more character in the first few months of my daughter’s life than the twenty-five years prior combined. I had postpartum depression.
Check back here next Wednesday for Mental Illness Awareness Series (Part 2 of 5)
You may have noticed that I recklessly tossed aside my goal for one post per week on this blog? I had good reason.
First, I had surgery. Seeing as how I’ve already been straight forward with my readers, I’m not going to balk now. I had a breast reduction done to alleviate back pain as well as other irritants that come from being top-heavy. I wouldn’t say it was the BEST decision I’ve ever made. I still count marrying my husband as the answer to that matter of business. But, it’s pretty far up on the list of good choices I’ve made in life. While recovering from surgery is reason enough to take a blogging break, it was more that it didn’t seem right to post from an altered state of being due to pain management medicine. That’s my attempt at diplomatically saying, “Pain killers make me loopy.” Nah, you didn’t need any of that.
Another reason for letting a few weeks pass by was that I needed to re-evaluate my purpose for this blog. There are times when I had hoped for some monetary gain from my blogging efforts, but never at the cost of selling myself out. Please don’t get me wrong. I think it’s awesome all the things that people are able to do to bring in a real income from blogging. However, that is not my primary reason for starting this blog. If it had been, I certainly wouldn’t have picked to focus on matters of inspiration and a healthy emotional well-being. That topic is not a guaranteed sell. Home projects, parenting, fashion, and cooking blogs are your money makers. And there are loads of tips and tricks to ensure you bring in significant revenue monthly, but some of them feel too fake or forced to sit right with me. So, while you may see some ads pop up on my site, you won’t ever see it bogged down with advertisement videos, sponsors, and the like.
What I hope you’ll find instead, is my genuine desire to share a piece of myself in the hopes of lifting another’s burden. I hope you’ll find a girl who is willing to talk about the painful topics of losing a loved one, battling mental illness, and other difficult life matters, without succumbing to those same heart breaks. My inspiration for this site started with a little seed nearly ten years ago, as I battled with Postpartum Depression. The glimpse of hope that I felt when another woman had expressed not feeling “perfectly awesome” after having a baby, as I was so deep in feelings of hopelessness, will forever stick with me. Her honesty gave me hope. If my honesty helps even one person feel like they’re not alone in their struggles, then my purpose for this blog has been fulfilled. I have helped lift another’s burden.
I’m not certain how often I will visit the writing board from this time forward. I no longer feel inclined to provide a post just to provide a post. I want to write when I have a message to share or a piece of me to give. To publish a post simply to keep traffic flowing does not seem suitable at this time. So, in the meantime, may you enjoy this holiday season with your loved ones. May it be filled with opportunities to lift another’s burden; that is my hope for this blog, as it is for my daily life. And, may your Christmas be merry and your New Year be bright!
You know those moments when you’re yelling at your kids and the thought crosses your mind, “Wow, I hope the neighbors can’t hear me.”? Oh yeah, that doesn’t happen to me either. Well, what about when you’re tucking your kids in bed and you have to take your foot and kick the toys aside to create a path so that they don’t trip and fall in the middle of the night when they come running to you to report a bad dream? Oh, you don’t do that either? Neither do I. I was just making you feel better in case that’s what you have to do in your home. Surely you have walked around in your dining area after the kids have gone to bed only to step on a soggy Life cereal piece from breakfast that morning (or perhaps several mornings ago) and then taken another step and landed on a dry piece of Life cereal that has now scattered into a pile of cereal dust that you intend to ignore until a later time? Duh! Of course that doesn’t happen in my home either. I was just checking if you were that mean, messy, and lazy. I’m certainly not. Psh. I wish. All of the above are real life events in my home. They also happen to be events that leave me often feeling like I’m failing at this whole homemaking thing.
I received comments from multiple women sharing that their kitchens looked the same. But how am I supposed to believe them when I come over and their home looks more like this every single time?
Sometimes I get this idea that everyone has their act together except me. Rational Sara figures this isn’t true, but Rational Sara also tends to take a leave of absence from time to time. And when she leaves, Natural Sara takes over and the emotional beatings begin.
There’s a part of me that has always been insecure, but I wonder if social media has exacerbated the issue in my life? I saw this quote from Steven Furtick that read, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” That quote has been rolling around in my mind ever since. I’m not wanting to see my Facebook feed filled with negativity or Debbie Downer moments, but I secretly love walking in to a friend’s home to find it less than perfectly orderly or to overhear a fellow mom grow impatient with their child, because it reminds me that I’m not alone in my inadequacies. It makes me realize how important it is to be honest about ourselves with one another, especially among women. Our lives are comprised of behind-the-scenes and highlight reels and we can’t have one without the other. In fact, there also happens to be a stellar blooper reel in the Special Features section of our home. I think it’s important to remember that a good life is not a perfect life.
Shortly after reading the above mentioned quote for the first time, I saw a Facebook status from a friend of mine. She showed herself vacationing in Las Vegas with the comment, “Re-charging my battery to get through all the “behind the scenes” life moments.” I simply “Liked” the status update, but what I wanted to say was, “Huzzah! Thanks for keeping it real.”
I guess it’s not fair to blame social media completely. I remember when I was a new Mom and struggling with Postpartum Depression, I kept all of the pain to myself because I figured surely nobody else had ever felt this low. I had a narrow perception of inner turmoil at this point in my life. Then one day, as I was sitting with some girlfriends from church, I alluded to the fact that this motherhood stuff was hard. I didn’t confess how hard it had become for me, but enough that these women knew my heart. They both were quick to say, “Don’t be fooled by what you see on Sunday.” I don’t believe that they were implying that they feign perfection at church. I think there point was that it’s easy to believe that everyone’s behind-the-scenes are jolly when you watch a family sit quietly in a pew while wearing their Sunday best. I think this was the first time that I really began to see the uplift that takes place when we let our walls down and share our imperfect lives with others. It eases the burden of loneliness.
And I think that’s just what I wanted to share today – you’re not alone. You’re not alone in your messy, impatient, stressful, chaotic, and sometimes lonely, world. I know this, because I am right there with you. Obviously, I am not there holding your hand, but I am confirming any lies you’ve told yourself about how other homes are perfectly succeeding at homemaking and/or any other role as an adult. And I’m sharing these thoughts to serve as my own personal reminder when Rational Sara decides to take her next leave of absence.
I originally posted the following post on Over the Big Moon (OTBM) under the title of Having a Merciful Heart. As has become my custom during the week prior to the third Sunday, I am featuring a previous OTBM post here in anticipation of my new OTBM post this Sunday. Normally I wouldn’t do so, but I did do tweaks to this post to make it less holiday focused since it was first published in December 2013.
My Mom battled Ovarian Cancer for five years. In the latter part of those five years, the battle grew increasingly more difficult. She was always good to put a smile on about the whole affair. People would ask her how she was feeling and she would give an optimistic response. I knew differently. I recall there was one gentleman at church that would say, “How are you, really?” I guess he was catching on that my Mom wasn’t offering up her true feelings and state of physical well-being. It wasn’t that she was trying to lie, I think she just thought it best for everyone if they didn’t worry about her. I suppose I don’t really know what her purpose was in keeping a strong upper lip on the matter. As I sit here, I wish I could ask her why she kept so many in the dark. In some ways, I’ve made a conscious decision to do the opposite, but at the same time my default is to put on that ever-smiling face no matter what.
Since I had never really been a private person, it wasn’t until the darkest time that I battled depression that I even realized I too hid the pain and ugliness. It just seems that people don’t want to know the real ugly thoughts we each endure. So, with those thoughts unshared, they become thoughts of shame and grief. I chuckle recalling my friend’s remarks when I confided in her about my desperate struggle with depression. She said, “You’re the happiest depressed person I’ve ever met.” She was not the only person to make comments along these lines. People would honestly ask me if I was ever in a bad mood. If only they knew…
Before I go further, let me say that I do not suggest that we should constantly be putting our dirty laundry out, nor carry around a sour disposition, nor spout to all the woes and heartbreak we feel. I truly believe that constantly feeding negative thoughts begets more negative thinking. Perhaps that is one of the reasons my Mom kept her times of sorrow private. She had an attitude of optimism.
In that same breath though, I think it’s important that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable amongst our loved ones. It’s this misconception that everyone is doing perfectly fine that creates this false feeling to the downtrodden that they are alone in their suffering. I know that is exactly how I felt when I experienced Postpartum Depression (PPD). In my eyes, every Mom I had met spoke of an immediate connection with their child and joy beyond compare. I loved and adored my infant daughter, but I was not experiencing those same feelings that they were describing. I applaud the first woman who opened up and shared her less-than-positive feelings regarding post childbirth. It’s that same reason that I have since strived to be open about my own trials. Since I am, apparently, quite good at hiding my pain during my daily activities, I’ve had to be forward in sharing my true feelings. Even close friends seem to be baffled when I confess to them that I am barely coping in my daily life. But, I think it’s important that women, and men, realize that pain and suffering is not set aside just for them individually. We all must endure and we all must be merciful.
I have had the opportunity to be a listening ear to many women over the past years. In my efforts to be honest about my challenges, others have felt comfortable in sharing theirs with me. Some stories included pains I cannot comprehend. I believe it takes great courage for us to confide in another regarding our deepest suffering. In my respect for their courage and trust in me, I held their stories private. But, sadly, I later overheard other women speak unkind words and make judgments regarding these women who had confided in me. I wanted to shout out, “If only you knew what they were dealing with privately, you would not be so quick to judge.” So as not to damage the trust that those courageous women had placed in me, I held my tongue. I simply tried to suggest to the gossiping women that these other women may be dealing with more than they understood. That experience, more than any other, taught me that we ought not make unrighteous judgments. Every person has their own story and struggle and rarely, if ever, do we have the whole picture.
I once had the pleasure of spending time with this sweet couple. The husband was sharing with me how kind-hearted and tender his wife is in everything she does. He gave the example that even when they’re driving on the road and someone cuts them off, his wife is quick to come up with a myriad of valid reasons as to why the driver did so. He admitted that he would quickly become agitated until her suggestions of “perhaps they didn’t know it was their turn-off,” “maybe they have a loved one who is ill and needs to get to the hospital,” or simply, “they must be having a hard day” would calm his nerves and change his heart. When he shared that story, it encouraged me to reconsider people’s unpleasant actions and try to find the unoffensive reasoning behind it. I once overheard another couple talking about their occasional misunderstandings. The husband said to his wife, “Whenever I say something, just know that I mean it in the most positive way possible.” An easy out on his part, but likely true nonetheless. There are so many ways to interpret actions, aren’t there? Often we are quick to assume the worst.
What I’m trying to say is let’s be slow to judge, quick to find the positive, and courageous enough to be vulnerable from time to time. If we but try to bear one another’s burdens and joys with merciful hearts, we will each be blessed with more peace and hope.
I’ve still been pretty down and lonely lately. I’m not going to lie. I’m doing my best to stop whining about it, but sometimes life just hits you. It’s not like any one thing is bad. I have it quite good, honestly. However, I suffer from Bipolar II disorder. Basically that means that nothing has to be wrong for me to feel depressed and I can seem perfectly happy at times and nobody but my husband and those closest to me would know otherwise. I take medicine to treat the disorder. I’m sure there are many out there with a thought on the matter of my method of treatment. In respect for my current state, let’s not put down a method that has saved me from the depths of the darkest time in my life.
It’s funny how life works. I never had much sympathy for depression or people that had to take pills to make themselves “happy.” Sadly, I looked at it as a weakness on their part. It seemed like the easy way out to just take a pill when life got “too hard.” Boy, was I put in my place. A pill is not a cure-all and depression is not the definition for merely having a bad week.
Depression first hit me in the form of Postpartum Depression (PPD). My husband would tell you it hit me the moment I learned my Mom had Ovarian Cancer. Maybe he’s right. I just know that it did not become crippling to my daily functioning until after my eldest was born. It’s truly disturbing how handicapped it can make you. Seeking medical attention was the first step in the right direction and the hardest.
As if you don’t feel down enough, you have to walk in to the office and say, “I give up.” Of course, taking medicine isn’t giving up, but it sure feels like that. You feel like such a failure. I tried to be smart about it and coupled my physical health care with mental health care and began seeing a therapist in April of 2007. At that time, my Mom was still alive and looked at my need for therapy as a failure on her part. It’s amazing how seeking help somehow implies that we’re weak or a failure.
Thankfully, I had a therapist who helped me address my need for medicine in a healthy light. She reminded me that depression is as real as Diabetes. Diabetics need medicine for their health. It doesn’t make them less of a person to take that medicine. The medicine does not make things perfect by any means in either case. It makes one functional. It brings the individual as close to “normal” as possible. Certainly, there are additional things that Diabetics and individuals that suffer from depression, or what’s now been diagnosed as Bipolar II disorder for me, can do to help fight off dangerous episodes. I suppose I need to up my momentum to do those activities.
Exercise is a good start. How ironic though that what you need most during those lows is the first thing that you can’t even imagine attempting. That’s when I try to start small. First goal, don’t fall asleep. Sleeping just begets more depressive thoughts. When things were really bad, I slept for hours on end both day and night. It sounds heavenly for the exhausted working Mom, but I was an at-home-Mom and that’s just considered flat out neglect. So, stay awake!
Reading is another excellent tool. There are so many things out there to uplift and edify. Particularly, reading scriptures. I’ve decided to work on this part of my life. I suppose this paragraph isn’t relevant for those that read my blog who do not have faith in a Higher Being. Though, I wonder, if scripture reading would help all readers regardless of their faith. The scriptures merely teach some basic truths and do-good-attitudes. For me, it helps me see the bigger picture. My Mom doesn’t seem as far away, as silly as that may sound. For instance, we read scriptures as a family tonight and we were reading about the Lord’s ability to give us strength beyond that of man. Then we asked one another in what ways has Heavenly Father given us the “strength of the Lord” in our personal lives. My first thought was that He gave me strength to move from all that I’ve ever known in Southern California. At times like this, it’s particularly hard to be away from some of my core support from back “home.” The second thought though was how Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have given me strength to live my daily life without my Mom around. I miss her so very much. Her physical absence in my life has changed me in ways that I did not anticipate. Then, I recall the bigger picture and take comfort that my time with her is not done. It’s eternal.
Another thing that helps me cope with these lows is admitting that I need help, as mentioned above. These times are less frequent with medicine on board, but I still need help. It’s that whole pride thing that gets me every time. I don’t want to admit I need help. I don’t want to admit that I’m not doing any of the things I should be doing. I want to pretend that I’m perfectly fine. Isn’t that easier for everyone else around me? Please don’t take this as a cry for help, as I really am functioning fine and my logical mind is still in control enough to recognize the many blessings in my life and the support that I do have. Honestly, because I am properly medicated and do have an excellent support system, I don’t think I’m feeling any different than the rest of the population who has a down time now and again.
But maybe if you are reading and feeling more down than your typical behavior, try the above mentioned things. Try to get moving, get reading, and get help. Whether you need medical help or an increase of emotional support, don’t think less of yourself for asking for it.
If you are fortunate enough to be in a happier state at the time, remember Scottish author, Ian Maclaren’s, advice to, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”