The Other Side of Here

Depression

I wasn’t stunned.

When I heard the news about Robin William’s passing – I wasn’t stunned. I wasn’t shocked or surprised like everyone else. I watched the news start rolling through my twitter and facebook feeds. I sat there, shaking my head, because I know. I just know.

Robin Williams has long been one of my favorite actors. Dead Poets Society is one of my top five movies of all time. I loved the diversity in his talent. That he could play a serious role just as well as a comedic one. And even though I’m not famous I kind of get where he was coming from.

I was randomly watching E News one night awhile ago and they reported him as having bipolar disorder. Again, I wasn’t stunned. I wasn’t shocked or surprised. I understood. He seemed to naturally fit when portraying  ups and downs of the human experience. It made complete sense. He was good at playing someone who was struggling. Because he was struggling.

And I have too.

I stayed silent last night about his apparent suicide. Probably because it hits a little too close to home. Here is someone who self-medicated with alcohol so he didn’t have to feel the pain of a depressive episode. I know that story myself.

Here is someone who tried to make people laugh to hide the tears and the doubt and the awful negative self-talk that dwells within someone with bipolar disorder. I know that story too.

I hesitated to write about him today. Because EVERYONE is writing about him today. How will what I have to say be any different?

I haven’t written much about what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder as of late. Probably because I have often felt discriminated against when I share this piece of myself.

Even though it doesn’t define me it is still an important piece to share.

I’m legitimately sad about Robin’s passing. I wept  for him because we still have so far to go to end the stigma toward mental illness.

I shouldn’t have read the comments on facebook posts about him last night.

“I’m sorry but I think what he did was a selfish act.”

“What a waste of a human.”

“Why couldn’t he have thought of his wife or his kids?”

These comments showcase the utter ignorance surrounding mental illness and suicide and how after years of studies and scientific evidence and new treatments it is still very much misunderstood.

Depression

I have been there. In 2007, I sat on a step crying. My husband sobbed while trying to hold me still. I was begging him not to go to work. I couldn’t be alone. I didn’t trust myself. I had reached the bottom. My brain was telling me I wasn’t worthy of life. My brain was thinking of ways to end it all.

Here I was, a newlywed, a new homeowner, the world at my feet. Yet everything in my being was telling me that I didn’t belong on earth. My illness was telling me that everyone I knew would be better off without me.

Thankfully doctors were able to save my life through intense therapy and new medications. But I know I got lucky. I was at the threshold of ending my life. I was thinking of ways to do it.

And my brain was telling me that it would be a SELFLESS act, not a selfish one. Did you hear that?! My brain was lying to me, telling me that sparing my loved ones the pain of having to deal with me would be much better than sticking around.

Lies, of course. All lies. But I’m trying to show an outsider who has never experienced the hell of a depressive episode that you are not thinking clearly. The last thing we want to do is hurt people. Suicide, when you’re that low, is thought of as sparing people.

Mental illness is not a flaw. I didn’t choose this. I wouldn’t wish those experiences on my worst enemy. Bipolar Disorder cannot be cured with essential oils or exercise or even acceptance by the people who love you. I know that can be so offensive to others who are trying their best to heal mental illness with love.

It helps. It truly does. And when you come out of the depression you will love those people who stood by you more fiercely than you did before. Because you know they could have easily walked away.

Robin Williams had periods of his life where he was well. Where he was properly medicated and treated for the illness. Where he made sound decisions and loved his kids and wife and friends.

Bipolar Disorder ebbs and flows. Sometimes we’re high atop a mountain shouting how much we love life. And other times we are in the valley.

Well, we just lost him to the valley.

When I heard the news about Robin William’s passing – I wasn’t stunned. I wasn’t shocked or surprised like everyone else. I cried and nodded my head. Because I know how close I was to this same fate.

I cried because I know he reached the mountaintop again. But I’m sad that it had to be on the other side of here.

Sliver

I’m going to drop two bombs on you.

I am struggling with severe postpartum anxiety.

And I just got fired from my new job.

To say I am devastated is an understatement. I was so excited about this new career. So happy to have been given a chance. But unfortunately what I had to give was not enough.

Can I be honest with you guys? It has NEVER been enough. I have never been enough.

I graduated with a journalism degree in 2001 and I have been nothing but a disappointment ever since. It doesn’t matter what field I have been in. I’ve never been able to hack it in the real world.

It’s not for lack of trying. I try. I change my mind. I get an idea. I go after it. I pick myself up off the floor and go at it again. I do all of this to support my family. And maybe a little bit because through every heartbreak and failure – there remains a little sliver of hope. That maybe someday I would find the place where I fit. The place where I can soar and succeed.

I have never applied for disability due to mental illness. I know plenty of people who have to and truly need it. I have contemplated and researched it. But to me, that was always the end point. It meant I would be admitting defeat. That I let the mental illness win.

But I think it already has, ya know? I am 35-years-old and professionally I am a complete failure. It pains me to write that. I remember when I stood with a microphone in my hand. It was my last band concert as a senior in high school. I can still remember what I was wearing. I can remember what I said. I stood up there in front of all the other seniors’ parents and I announced to the world that I would be a news anchor. I would laugh right now if I weren’t crying so hard. I mean, it’s quite ironic considering I can’t even watch the news because the stories they report on give me panic attacks.

Two months ago I noticed that Sawyer didn’t have very good head control at all. She was only two-months-old so I didn’t worry too much. I mean, she slept the entire first month after she was born. She just needed time to catch up. So we worked with her. And tried to help her gain strength. But days, turned into weeks, turned into months. She is now four-months-old and it is still so wobbly. Her legs are also weak. I get more scared every day. Even though I try to talk my brain out of these thoughts they just keep creeping up – that something might be really wrong with her.

I am now drowning in fear and panic and worry. I can’t sleep at night. I get up to check on my children four or five times a night because I am absolutely terrified that something terrible is going to happen to them. I can’t stop these thoughts. I try but I can’t.

So imagine me trying to work 60+ hours out of the home at a new, stressful job – with one coworker who is nitpicking every single thing I do and being completely rude to me for no reason – I feel like I’m under a magnifying glass. I started to shut down mentally. Many times I would just sit there staring at my computer, knowing how much there is to be done, and I’m paralyzed. Paralyzed by the fear of failure. Paralyzed by the fear that something terrible will happen to my children while I am away.

On Tuesday I was told “I’m not the right fit.” This is really a nice way of saying – you suck and you aren’t worthy of this job and as it turns out no one really likes you. It was one of the most humiliating moments of my life. Being walked to my car and handing over my keys to someone who is everything you wish you could be.

I am a disappointment. To my husband. To my family. To my kids. To myself. I went home, went upstairs to change out of my work clothes. I stood there for a long time looking at my fifty pairs of shoes that I never wear. The professional clothes I don’t even need anymore that I bought because I was so excited for a fresh start. And I collapsed into a heap of tears and slobber and sweat onto the floor.

I don’t think I realized how bad this really was. I knew the anxiety was getting worse. But I thought I could hide it. I wanted to hide it. I still feel so guilty for having to stop breastfeeding Brigham early because I required medication that was unsafe for him. I didn’t want that to happen with Sawyer. I want to keep breastfeeding and I know it will end when I go to the doctor.

It’s not fair. None of this is fair. I pray and I believe and I try. But it’s never enough. It’s not enough.

I know I have to go get help. It’s time. I keep all my doctors’ numbers on speed dial.

But that sliver of hope – the one I’ve always had deep within me – the little girl who believed she would grow up to be somebody special. I just don’t know if that hope is there anymore.

Stitch Fix #1 | Trying it Out

Have you heard of Stitch Fix? I feel like every blogger has tried it at least once and if not they are thinking about it. I learned about Stitch Fix a year ago. Then when I went to Influence Conference the founders did a presentation on how they started their business. I was pregnant at the time but told myself I would give it a shot after I gave birth.

If you haven’t heard of it Stitch Fix is a service where you pay a $20 styling fee, fill out a questionnaire about your style and someone will pick five pieces of clothing/accessories to send right to where you live. That’s right. No awkward and/or sad moments in a fitting room at the mall. Sold yet? I was.

So they send you the clothes and you decide if you want to keep it or send it back. They give you the prepaid bag to make returns easy. Then you go online and tell them what you thought of each piece and pay for what you keep. The $20 fee goes toward your purchase and if you end up keeping all five pieces you get 25% off!

There are three things you need to know about me when it comes to buying clothes:

1. I’m fairly cheap. It is very rare that I spend more than $50 on a piece of clothing. Forever 21 and Target are my staples even though I’m so far removed from age 21 it’s laughable (I’m 35. SO WHAT).

2. I like all different styles of fashion. Seriously, I can’t make up my mind.

3. Before I had kids I used to shop for myself all the time. Now I shop for my kids. I know, how cliché am I?

So obviously the whole Stitch Fix concept was hard for me to grasp. I had heard that their pieces are kinda expensive and that it might take a few tries for the stylist to get it right. But I told myself that I would focus on self-care after baby #3 came. I mean, I feel like I deserve a treat every now and then. I used to be fashionable. I really did. And I want to get back there. So I knew it was time to go out of my comfort zone.

I signed up and filled out the style questionnaire and then waited for the box to arrive on my doorstep. When it did I think I squealed. I was so excited to find out what someone had picked for little old me! Here’s my first report.

1. Alessandra Striped & Colorblocked Blouse

I think this shirt is amazing! I love everything about it. The stripes, the colors, the length. When I filled out the questions I told them I just had a baby and the tummy pooch is still there. Tight-fitting clothes are pretty much out right now while I tone up (or eat a batch of cookies, whatever). I also told them that I am nursing. This shirt is super easy to lift up so I can nurse or pump. Naaman even complimented me on it! I knew I would keep this one before even trying it on!

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2. Abrianna Longsleeve Knit Cardigan

I love a good cardigan. I really do. I loved the length on this but I have a gazillion cardigans already and really couldn’t justify keeping this one due to the price. If it was something extra special – like aztec print, for instance, which I am loving right now – I would totally think about keeping it. But I sent the cardigan back.

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3. Sandrine Tiered Sleeveless Blouse

Stitch Fix did an excellent job picking this shirt out for me because I already own one just like it. I wear it all the time! I feel like this color looks great with my fair skin and blonde hair. Because I have one nearly identical to it I still sent it back. But kudos to the stylist for picking something that I already had in my closet!

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4. Tiffany Lightweight Tribal Print Infinity Scarf

I am picking up steam with the scarf trend. I recently bought a few new ones. I liked this scarf but the price was what sealed its fate. I sent it back because I just can’t spend nearly $40 on a scarf. No way, no how. I think I might spend $15 tops on a scarf. So the pretty scarf had to go back to where it came. Still really enjoyed this piece though.

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5. Stefano Medallion Print Shift Dress

There’s no photo for this one because I thought it was bad. Really bad. It was way too big and the print looked like an old wallpaper pattern. Maybe it’s my fault because as you’ll see above, I’m not great at styling yet. I have a crapload of clothing and shoes in my closet but I don’t know how to put things together and make them cuter than they are. Stitch Fix does send some ideas. I wish I had had time to mix and match and make it work. But I sent the dress back because nope!

So what do you think? Pretty cool service, huh? I am definitely going to try again in a couple months. You can sign up for monthly fixes if you want. I really can’t wait to try again!

Did I talk you into it? It’s super easy to sign up and please comment to let me know you did. In fact, try it and post your fixes like me. It’s fun to pretend like you’re a model for twenty minutes.

Letting go so they can let go

I sat on the sofa holding my brand new baby girl in my arms. I stared down at her while she slept peacefully. She’s still so new that her skin is peeling, as it often does with newborns. The house is quiet except for the deep breaths that she takes every few minutes. She is completely calm against my chest. I am her mother. And I don’t ever want to let her go.

Suddenly I hear laughter. The sound startles me. I don’t know where it is coming from. Then I realize it is coming from outside. It throws me off because it’s February and it’s still cold outside. But a minute later I hear laughter again and see the flash of a young girl ride by our house on her bike.

My heart drops.

Where are her parents? How can they let her ride her bike outside after what just happened to that innocent little girl?! Don’t they know it’s not safe?

The night before I was driving home and saw the words lit up on the Scout road signs in Kansas and Missouri.

AMBER ALERT

I lose my breath every time I see those words. Because I know somewhere there is a parent on their knees. Somewhere there is a parent begging for their child’s safe return.

Unfortunately, this time, the alert wouldn’t work. Hailey Owens was murdered after being abducted. All she was doing was walking home. In the sunlight. In her own neighborhood.

My poor, already-anxious brain cannot logically handle this news. This happened before when baby Lisa went missing. So I immediately tell myself that my children will never be allowed to play outside without us present.

But then – I hear laughter. The day after Hailey Owens is murdered. As someone who has struggled with severe anxiety for most of her life I cannot comprehend this. I think the girl in our neighborhood on her bike could be next. I think my children could be next. And somehow I make myself believe that it is within my power to keep something like this from happening.

If I keep them close, always, nothing bad will happen. If I let them be independent our world could come crashing down. But I know that’s not right. I know, logically, my children are mostly safe, save a skinned knee or some stitches on the chin. But it is difficult for me to work that out. It is difficult for me to let go especially after a senseless tragedy.

I recently took one of those ridiculous tests on facebook. This one was “what type of parent are you?” as if answering a few questions could yield a correct answer. But still, I took the test.  The results revealed me as a HELICOPTER parent. I cringed. I hate that. I hate that word. I don’t want to be that parent. I don’t want to hold my children back because I am afraid.

At the beginning of this week there was a thunderstorm. It was completely unexpected because it is still February and there is still unmelted snow on the ground from the last snowstorm. There was lightning and thunder and rain. And the preschool decided to do a tornado drill. Apparently Brigham got upset when they said the word tornado. He screamed and cried and panicked. The director had to take him into her office to get him to calm down.

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When I picked them up that night I was so sad that I hadn’t been there to protect him. I was so sad that I wasn’t the one to tell him that everything is okay. There is no scary tornado. There will NEVER be a scary tornado as long as I’m there to protect you. We went home and the storm continued and I went upstairs to put a load of laundry in the wash. Thunder boomed loudly and Brigham and Landon both screamed for me, not knowing where I had gone. I yelled back that I was upstairs and they both came running. I quickly scooped them up and calmed their fears. I relished that moment. The moment that I got to be the one to protect them. I got to be the one to tell them that everything is okay.

But the truth is – I won’t always be there. I can’t be. It’s not possible. They are growing up and Landon starts school in a matter of months. My heart skips beats just thinking about the problems he could face while I’m not there. The tears that may fall when I’m not there to catch them.

This is parenting. I have to learn to let go. Because if I don’t learn to let go – they never will.

I hold my daughter in my arms that sunny afternoon. I listen to the laughter of that little girl outside our house. Every few minutes I see her pass by the window again, a blur of happiness and innocence. I want that for my children. I don’t want them to feel the paralyzing fear and anxiety that I have struggled with for much of my life. It’s not right for me to put that on them. I don’t want that to be their journey.

So I pray that I have the strength to let go enough in order for them to learn the lessons they need to learn. I pray that my children overcome their fear of storms, with or without me present. I pray for their safety. Then I kiss my daughter on her sweet head and whisper how much I love her.

Cloudy with a Chance of Rain

Remember that commercial for Zoloft? The one where there is a cartoon in the shape of an egg and everywhere the egg goes a dark rain cloud follows up above? Yeah, I’m the egg. I’ve always felt like a rain cloud follows me whereever I go. I can’t help feeling like that. A lot of people will say, “Quit complaining” or “Be positive!” But it’s not that easy when your brain doesn’t understand the fundamental duty of relaying normal messages from one end to the other. How can you possibly be an optimist when you have suffered from depression your entire life?

I appreciate when friends try to give me advice. I really do. But if you don’t suffer from depression then frankly, you haven’t got a clue what it feels like day in and day out. I get so frustrated that I want more than anything to be happy but it feels like there is a brick wall blocking my road to happiness. It literally feels like there is someone standing in the way. I want to knock them down. But when I throw a punch it doesn’t hit anything. Fiona Apple wrote one of my favorite songs ever called “ShadowBoxer” and she takes the words right out of my mouth.

She sings, “You made me a shadowboxer, baby, I wanna be ready for what you do. I been swinging around at nothin, I don’t know when you’re gonna make your move.”

The fact is, I’ve never been a “glass is half-full” personality. That has never been me and I’m not sure it ever will be. But I feel like I try very hard to be happy. I try to create my own happiness because in the past I’ve counted on people to bring me happiness and that didn’t pan out so well. The only way I can describe my feelings as of late is just that I feel down. I feel blue. I feel like the egg. Round and sad and depressed. And unfortunately, Zoloft won’t help this egg. The years of 1997 and 1998 proved that Zoloft wasn’t the medicine for me (even though it works for other people). Instead of forcing my brain waves to do what they were supposed to do and take away the terrible pain I was feeling, I felt nothing instead. I didn’t feel happy. And I didn’t feel sad either. I was numb to feeling, which is no good if you ask me. I would rather feel sad than feel nothing at all. Because feeling nothing is not living.

Today I received my third rejection from a job for which I had interviewed. I know I should try to look at this experience as a good one. After all, it was between me and the candidate they ended up choosing. She said it took 3 weeks to decide because both of us were equally excellent candidates. I am certain it came down to the money. But I’ve worked hard for my experience. I’ve worked hard for my education. I believe in myself and I know I deserve the amount that I am asking for. Unfortunately, during this down economy, it’s going to be tough to get an organization to agree with me on that.

Rejection is never an easy thing to experience. Three rejections in a row is even tougher. Three rejections when you suffer from depression . . . that’s a whole new ballgame. Obviously, I want a new job. I don’t want to travel so I must keep looking. But the holidays are here and everyone knows that things kind of come to a standstill during November and December. No company wants to interview and hire new employees during these months. So we’re probably looking at January to even get into the swing of interviewing again.

In the mean time, I have to suck it up and I’m not good at doing that. I’m a sore loser (obviously). I like to WIN. I am very competitive and knowing someone “beat” me is a hard pill to swallow.

But through it all, I do the mental work to continue to be and stay well. I do the therapy. I take the drugs and for (nearly) 30 years I have always remained hopeful that God has a greater plan for me. In my heart, I know that if I didn’t get that job then it wasn’t right for me and I must believe that there is an even better one out there. There is a door open for me. I just need to be shown the way. And when I pray I pray very hard. And I don’t take the easy way out. I don’t pray for what I want or what I think is right. I pray for God’s will to be done. Whatever that may be. He has not shortchanged me. I refuse to play the victim. God created a perfect me and I am convinced that He knew I was strong enough to handle this illness. I trust Him and He trusts me. We have an agreement ; )

However, negative stigmas still exist in today’s society regarding mental illness and I hope to work against the stigmas throughout my life. To let people know that you can’t just “snap out of it” or “get over it.” Although I sometimes will refer to my battle with depression as a funk or a bad day, it’s really much more than that. Instead of judging those with mental illness I urge you to do some research. I find the DBSA website to be full of extremely helpful information. And also, you might want to read about a courageous young woman named Rebecca. Her story sums it up pretty well. And it’s stories like hers that remind me why I want people to know about depression. It steals lives. But I won’t let it steal mine.