Tag Archives: mental health

My Mind Is My Battlefield

This is as true in everyday life as it is in battle: we are given one life and the decision is ours whether to wait for circumstances to make up our mind, or whether to act, and in acting, to live. ~ Omar N. Bradley

Depression is an issue that has been getting a great deal of press lately, particularly in the parenting community. The Parenting Magazine article Xanax Makes Me A Better Mom shows just how pervasive and controversial this issue is: according to the article, parents are more than twice as likely as non-parents to experience depression, and the comments section illustrates just exactly how harsh and judgmental people can be about it — whether you’re taking pills or not, whether you’re in therapy or not, as soon as you use the word ‘depression’ someone stands ready to condemn you for something.

I’ve been depressed for my entire life. When I was 24, I first heard the word dysthymia: chronic, mild depression that lasts for years. It was a diagnosis which has made me view my entire dry, pessimistic personality as suspect. I’ve suffered repeated bouts of double depression as well — dysthymia paired with an episode of major depression. It makes for a thick psychiatric folder and a lifelong struggle to feel even the most basic joys.

Photo courtesy of sxc.hu

Photo courtesy of sxc.hu

I took medications (many, many medications) for five years. I’ve been in therapy with psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, and counselors for eleven. I’ve used all the conventional methods to treat depression, from SSRIs to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I know what works for me and what doesn’t.

Last summer, I went once more into a deep depression. Years of therapy had given me tools that helped me to deal with my dysthymia, and I had been functioning quite well without drugs for years. The scary thing about this depression, beyond the fact that my own mind was once more threatening my life and happiness, is that this time I’m a mom.

I have a son. I have to raise this child. I have to get up early every morning, put his needs before my own, and provide him with a safe, healthy environment. More than that, I have to teach him how to live in the world. How can I do that, if I’m mired in pain? How can I teach him to love life if I’m thinking of taking my own?

Baby face_edited-1

My son, just by existing, has raised the stakes on my healing process. I MUST GET BETTER. For his sake, for my sake, for the sakes of all the people with whom I come into contact. I cannot refuse to do the things that I have to do to get better, not out of fear or shame or any other emotion that may weigh me down.

A recent article by The Bearded Iris was titled “We Are Only As Sick As Our Secrets”. It’s a saying which is common theme in therapy. Being open about our pain, about the reasons behind our pain, alleviates that pain. It allows us to live more fully in our skins and to have more honest relationships with people. Though it may be hard and frightening, talking about our inner fears, hurts, and suppressed angers is a necessary part of healing.

Though it’s hard, I’ve been working to come to grips with my past — to expose my pain to fresh air and sunlight. Therapy has taught me a great deal about myself, about the things that made me the way I am, and about what I need to do to become the kind of person that I want to be.

When it becomes too hard, when it hurts too much and I face too much judgment and condemnation from my loved ones (who would be very happy to see me medicate the pain away, in spite of the fact that I know that drugs are only a superficial panacea for me), I think of my little son.

I think of him at seventy, or eighty, or ninety. I think of him telling his grandchildren about his life, and that of his parents. I think of him telling them about me.

If I give up, if I choose not to do the hard work of grappling with my pain, his story will be one of his own pain. It will be a story of feeling disconnected from his mother, of watching her shrivel into herself until she was completely unable to function. It may be a story of losing her altogether, and the terrible toll that had on the rest of his young life. I can’t bear to think of that.

If I don’t give up, if I do what needs to be done to face my demons and stand up for my own mental health, I can hope that his story will be one of pride and admiration. It will be a story of a strong, courageous woman who did not let life, stigma, condemnation, or her own mind keep her down. A woman who fought for what she loved and who raised him with the courage to do the same.

That’s the story I want to leave my son with. That’s the woman, the mother, that I want to be.

So the fight continues.

Battle_of_barnet

If you find yourself relating to me a little too closely, or you know someone who would, there’s lots of help available. Please don’t suffer in silence. Seek help. A basic Google search for “depression help” turns up an unbelievable 240,000,000 results. You owe it to yourself, and even more importantly to your children, to get treatment.

Let’s make sure that all our children have truly inspiring stories to tell of us.

How The Fairy Conquered The Troll (Tales From The Mommy Wars)

You can be childlike without being childish. ~ Christopher Meloni

Here I go again.

Another rant about “The Mommy Wars”.

See, I was on Facebook today (surprise, surprise, right? When am I not on Facebook?) when I saw a post by Scary Mommy. She does a rather wonderful bit on her blog called From The Confessional, where people can anonymously post their bad parenting moments, awful marriage issues, secret desires … really, whatever they want. Sort of like Post Secret, only without the pictures.

Like this, only online and with fewer priests. (Photo by sgarbe84)

Every so often, Scary Mommy posts one of these confessions on her Facebook fan page. They often generate a lot of discussion, and today’s was no exception.

The confession was: “There needs to be a law giving SAHM’s a couple of sick days a year. A professional childcare provider would show up at your house and send you off to bed.”

Most of the comments were supportive, commiserating over how difficult it is to catch a break when you’re sick and can’t find anyone to fill in with your kids for a while. But then this one happened:

“Oh yes, let’s give sick days to SAHMs who could at least stay home or in their jammies if necessary. Working FT, I earned one sick day last year. ONE. And I spent it staying home for my kid, who was sick, taking her to the doctor. As a single mom, I still went in to work when I was sick more often than not. Please don’t think working mamas have it easy….”

Now, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m being oversensitive, or reading into the tone and the words more than I should. But this sounds very much like, and forgive my paraphrase, “You whiners are full of it. Get a job and you’ll see who actually has the harder life. You don’t deserve to complain, when you have it so damn easy.”

Great. We have a Mommy Wars combatant on the comment thread.

It’s a troll! (Photo by kfawcett)

And this is where my position as a citizen of Mommy Switzerland gets difficult. See, I’m human. I’m a stay at home mom, and I’m not always so very confident in myself and my choices, just like every other human. And when I feel that my lifestyle — my JOB — and thus myself, is under attack, I get defensive. I want to justify my choice to stay at home, I want to argue at length about how difficult I find it to be, even though I know that the person who posted this comment won’t want to hear it. She won’t be swayed by pleas of feeling isolated, of feeling that all the responsibility of raising this child healthy and happy is squarely on my shoulders and that to hand him off even for a few hours indicates some sort of failure on my part. She won’t soften her position if I speak of my jealousy when I hear about “working” moms (meaning those who work outside the home — ALL moms work) who eat lunch without anyone screaming for their attention, who go to the bathroom with the door closed, who’ve showered within the last five days. All she will do is tell me that I have no right to complain, that I don’t know how difficult working moms have it, and so I should just shut up.*

And that makes me mad.

Angry cat is angry. (Photo by grngobstpr)

It took me a really, REALLY long time to own my own pain. I’ve struggled with depression for all of my adult life, and for much of my adolescent life as well. And through a lot of it, I felt that I didn’t have the right to hurt, because other people had it worse than me. It took years of therapy for me to admit that my pain was real, and that whatever the causes, I have the right to feel it and to expect support from my loved ones. To have people suggest that I don’t deserve my pain hits a very sensitive nerve.

But here’s where I’m proud of myself. When I feel attacked, when my personal demons start riffing off the words of a random, bitter woman on the internet, I don’t attack back. I don’t hide in my shell. Not this time, not anymore. I take a deep breath and attempt to, calmly and rationally, call her on her lack of sympathy while refusing to escalate the situation or to make it personal.

Here’s my response to her: “This was not an attack on working mothers. This was just a cry of frustration from a SAHM. We all have difficulties as moms, and they’re all legitimate. If we can all be sympathetic towards one another, maybe we can come up with some solutions, or at the very least we can offer emotional support.”

BAM. Done. I didn’t vent my frustration at her tone, or my hurt at feeling attacked. And I’m so, so proud of myself for that. Am I bragging? Absolutely. Where ten years ago I would have allowed myself to become defensive and possibly irrational, saying things that I didn’t really mean or that I would later regret, I kept my cool. Yeah, this is just a Facebook comment thread. But I feel like it is an indication of a greater pattern in my life, and that it shows how I’ve grown as a person. It shows that I’ve attained a certain level of emotional maturity. Maybe I’m even a grown-up now.

Maybe. If by “grown-up” you mean someone who really, really loves a good fart joke. And who doesn’t mind one little bit when she’s covered in glitter, because it makes her feel like a fairy.

It’s a fairy! (Photo by cheeki)

Well, either way. A fairy is better than a troll.

*I just want to note here that it’s true, I don’t know what it is to be a mother who works at a job outside the home. But if you are one, and you need to vent, let me assure you that you can always find a shoulder to cry on and a person to commiserate with in me. I won’t ever, EVER try to make you feel bad for feeling bad. We’re all in this together, right?

I Didn’t Hump Anyone’s Leg. I Promise.

A good neighbor is a fellow who smiles at you over the back fence, but doesn’t climb over it. ~ Arthur Baer

Loving Husband and I are shopping for houses.

Well, we’re shopping for one house. It’s not like we’re thinking of buying one and a spare.

This is a pretty major development for us. An evolutionary milestone, if you will. It means that, for the first time ever, we are prepared to stay in one place for a long time.

By “a long time,” I mean at least ten years. Since we’ve never lived anywhere for more than four years, that’s pretty huge.

But, now that our time in the Navy is done (at least as active duty folks), LH has a good job that won’t make him move every few years, and we’re tired of renting. It’s expensive, and we can’t do things to a rental house (like make repairs, or paint, or whatever) that we could do to a house that we own.

So we’re shopping.

This brings up an issue, though. Neighbors.

I mean, we’ve had neighbors before, obviously. But when you’re renting, and you know that you’re not going to be there for long, you don’t have to be on really good terms with your neighbors. It’s not important. Which was good for us, because, for various reasons, I’m a rotten neighbor.

For starters, I grew up in New Jersey, where people are not especially outgoing. So that’s one strike against me — culturally, my expectation is to ignore and be ignored.

I also grew up in a family of people who are introverts. As a family, we just don’t know what to do with strangers, and we’re certainly not about to knock on someone’s door to introduce ourselves, even without taking into account my own personal struggles with social anxiety. Strike two.

Um … yeah, hi. I’m just going to stay behind this nice tree until you go away, and then I’m going to beat myself up with recriminations, okay? (Photo by bigevil600)

My biggest problem, though, is that I’m a trouble-maker (I like to call myself a ‘free-thinker’). Let me give you an example to show you what I mean.

At our last station just before we left active duty, we had to live on base. This broke my heart when I found out — we were going to Sicily, and we’d have to live surrounded by only Americans? Where’s the fun in that? But we didn’t have a choice at that time — it was policy that any service members with families had to live in on-base housing.

We arrive to find that, not only do we have a lawn (which, having come from a third-story apartment, we’d never had before) but we’re expected to maintain it ourselves. In addition to weeding the lawn and pruning shrubs, that meant watering the lawn. Every day. Twice a day.

They wanted this.

Now, I’m a research nerd. As soon as I learned that we were going to Sicily, I started doing research on it. In the course of that, I found that Sicily has a lot of water distribution problems. Some are due to changing agricultural practices, with a move toward more water-intensive crops and away from the traditionally Mediterranean olives and almonds. Others are due to corruption and the influence of organized criminal organizations. Either way, every summer there is some problem with water, and people frequently have to go without water in their homes for days at a time.

To me, this spelled out the word C-O-N-S-E-R-V-E. I thought, if there are water troubles, the responsible thing to do would be to conserve water. And a good way to start would be to eliminate uses that were purely aesthetic, like watering your lawn. Makes sense, right?

Wrong. I’m a damn hippie. No matter how much research I quoted, or how often I showed my findings to the maintenance folks and the chain of command, nobody wanted to hear anything about it.

On the contrary, it made people awfully angry. I know, I know, I was naïve to think that people would be willing to listen, to not realize that people would feel threatened and angry at some LT’s wife trying to save the world one lawn at a time. As an idealistic, I-can-make-the-world-a-better-place, twenty-something artistic type, it was a pretty rude awakening for me.

They got this.

What really shocked me, more than anything else, was the reaction of some of my neighbors. One in particular, a woman whose husband my husband happened to work closely with, was so angry about the state of our lawn (that state being mostly dead) that she confronted me about it. Angrily. If we had been men, I’m pretty sure that fists would have been involved. And after that, with very few exceptions, we never spoke to one another again.

(Can I tell you one of the exceptions? We were at a command dinner at a restaurant, a large group of Americans surrounded by Italians, who were studiously ignoring us. I was talking at my end of the table with one of Loving Husband’s colleagues, who asked me about my theater background and what sort of things I had done. When I mentioned that I had been involved in a production of The Vagina Monologues, this neighbor woman yells from the other end of the table, “Watch your mouth!” As if I was randomly shouting out the clinical names of lady-parts in public — VULVA! VAGINA! CLITORIS! I mean come on. Context, people! I think she really did expect me to pee on the floor, or start humping someone’s leg.)

I’m pretty sure that our neighborhood had a block party to celebrate our departure at the end of our tour. I can’t prove it, though, because when I left I was on speaking terms with so few of our neighbors.

Strike three. We’re out.

Buying a house, we’re going to be there for a long time. I want to be on good terms with the neighbors. I mean, we don’t have to become life-long friends, walking into each other’s houses without knocking, like in the old sitcoms. But I would like to be reasonably certain that they’re not going to leave flaming piles of poo on my doorstep.

With that in mind, we’re preferring houses that don’t have lawns, at least in front. And we’re automatically dismissing any houses that have Homeowner’s Associations.

I’d love to hear your crazy neighbor stories! Unless they’re about me, “That damn crazy hippie who moved in and crusaded against decent, hard-working lawns.” In which case you may keep it to yourself.