A Better Mom

I’m not what people would call a calm person. In fact, I’ve been called a hummingbird on speed. I am in constant motion and full of a constant stream of thoughts, very few left unsaid. It sounds funny, and sometimes it is. I’m a hit at parties and a bringer of levity at meetings and conferences. But when I’m just living my daily life as a stay-at-home-mom, it’s exhausting and scary. And it is a problem that is stigmatized and misunderstood as evidenced by the reactions to this article on Parenting.com and the ensuing talk shows like Anderson Live and Katie where wine drinking and mood-stabilizing drugs prescribed by a psychiatrist are lumped in the same category.

I have generalized anxiety disorder, and after the twins were born, it became postpartum anxiety and depression. This meant that before treatment my mind was my worst enemy. My ability to imagine turned ordinary new-parent worries into disasters of epic proportions. It was imperative that I give the boys the exact same amount of formula. If I didn’t get them to take good naps now, they would never sleep well. Having pears on Monday meant not even looking at pears Tuesday so that they had a nice variety in their diet. To get to the living room from our master bedroom, you had to pass the mantle which had a corner that stuck out almost into the hall. Every time I passed that corner, I imagined accidentally knocking a baby’s head into it. I saw the blood gushing and heard the screams and cries. I never accidentally hit that corner, but it haunted me every time I passed it. When I went to take the boys to meet Michael, my husband, for lunch, I would pack three meals’ worth of formula in case there was a massive traffic jam, and I had to be with them in the car for hours. Seriously.

It only got worse when the boys got mobile, and I ventured outside to normal places like the park and the mall. My brain saw the germs on the play structures. I could imagine them jumping onto my sons and sending them to the hospital. Stairs were my mortal enemy. No matter how much the boys improved at navigating them, I still imagined them falling down them. My brain played out the whole scene. They fall screaming. I drop what’s in my arms and run to them. There is a lot of blood, and I tell the other twin to call Daddy on my phone. I grab band-aids and calmly apply pressure to the wound even as I know in my heart the injured child would need surgery and would never be the same. And it was all my fault for not holding their hand or telling them to slow down or being late and in a hurry. And the park? Play the stairs scene over for every piece of equipment. I tried to have play dates there and enjoy the company of friends and their kids, but I was always on alert and ready to run after a child heading for traffic or falling to his death from the slides. These things never happened, but I was sure they would.

The stairs at our Poland apartment had to be faced every day. And every day I imagined the boys tumbling down.

The stairs at our Poland apartment had to be faced every day. And every day I imagined the boys tumbling down.

I’m shaking, and my heart is racing right now just writing this. I can’t stop thinking of all the examples of this behavior.

The only way I’m able to get through the day and be out among the people is with therapy and medication. And even with that I still have the thoughts. They just don’t paralyze me or send me into an anxiety-induced crabby-fest. My anxiety manifests as anger; the anger is that things are out of my control. But I have coping skills, and I have support.

In other words, my medication makes me a better mom. My medication and techniques I’ve learned in therapy. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group at ppdchat. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group and my understanding, superpartner spouse.  My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group at ppdchat and my fantastic spouse and my involved parents. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group and my understanding spouse and my caring parents and exercise. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group and my understanding spouse and my involved parents and exercise and having a hobby.

My point? Yes, I’m medicated, but no, I’m not using it as a crutch. I work hard to be a good mom. It’s an obsession that can lead me down a rocky road. So I use all the tools I can find to find that balance between striving to be what my kids need and keeping my spirit intact. It’s not easy, and anyone who tells you medication is the easy way out has never been where I am-at the top of the stairs facing another day of shutting off the horror show in my brain.

Super Bowl of Sad

Super Bowl Sunday!!!!  Bring on the parties and food and commercials and football!!!  Or the terrible memory of how Postpartum Depression made me so tense I skipped a chance to take my sons to their first Super Bowl party at their godparents’ house!!!!

(Wait, no exclamation points on that last thing. Is there a sad equivalent? What is the saddest punctuation? How about the most anxious?)

This makes me sad......sad there are no Pilsbury Crescent Rolls in Poland. Photo courtesy http://www.lifelovebeauty.com

That sad Super Bowl was four years ago, and yet I can still bring up a cloud of anxiety thinking about it. I still have pain over waiting seven months to get treated.  I still wish I didn’t have to be medicated to be a good mother, wife, human.

It’s safe to say that since the boys are four, what I currently struggle with is no longer Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety.  I’ve moved back to my good friends Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  These are things I’ve struggled with and been medicated for my whole life. And I still wish it would go away so I could be ‘normal’.

I was well aware of the risks of PPD and how they applied to me before I got pregnant with the boys.  In addition to my history of diagnosed depression, I was also dealing with the stillbirth of our first son and the death of my brother.  Add in 10 weeks of bed rest before the twins were born and the complication that had me with an NG tube down my throat after their birth, and it seems I would be the most likely candidate in the history of ever to get it.

But, I just thought I was emotional.  And not a natural mother.  And just a bitch.  Like, that’s just my personality. (I also have a super great ego as you can see.)  Besides, I didn’t want to hurt my sons or myself like Brooke Sheilds.  In fact, the opposite was true. I felt that every thing I did would impact their immediate health as well as their whole lives.  All decisions were life and death.  I had one chance to make it right.  One chance to make them healthy.  One chance to ‘teach’ them to sleep well.  One chance to instill good manners.  One chance to make them good readers who floss every night.

Dear me, that paragraph makes me need a Xanex.

I wasn’t mentally ill in my eyes.  I just wanted someone to come and take me to a hospital so I could rest.  (Yes, I hoped for this so many times.)  I thought more sleep was the answer.  If I could just catch up on sleep, I’d be able to think and get it all together.  I would sit in the car and wish I could just stay there but feel anxious and afraid of what was going on with the boys when I wasn’t with them.

I had plenty of help.  My husband was home with us for nine weeks.  Then I could always count on my parents and several friends in a pinch.  I just couldn’t even make help work right.  My mom would come so I could nap, and I’d be in my bed frantic about dirty towels.  I couldn’t even tell her what needed to be done.  My brain had no idea what was most important.  I needed it all done and I had to do it since I was the mother and I had chosen to stay home and lots of people did this every day and my best friend has a sister-in-law who breastfed twins for 100 years!  It was all on me.

My friends were good parents.  My parents were good parents.  Strangers who had kids without pacifiers were good parents.  I was a mess of awfulness.  In my eyes, I did nothing right.  And I worried all the time about it.  Why couldn’t I just relax?  Why couldn’t things just be the normal tough parent stuff instead of catastrophes of pain and worry and sadness?

I’m so sorry that I took so long to get help.  I feel like I ruined those first months for my boys.  I see videos of them at that age and hear my own voice and laughter and wonder if it was enough.  I wonder if they have positive feelings from that time or they just remember the mommy who cried and cussed so bad one morning that daddy stayed home from work.  I can only assume daddy thought the boys were not safe in my care.

I am currently medicated.  I actually just had to have the dosage upped.  (I’m wondering if moving my family to Poland was maybe a bit more stressful than I planned? Um, probably.)  I wish I was going the other way and was weening of it.  I want to just relax and have fun.  I want to enjoy when my kids make a huge mess that was fun instead of get tense about how I’m the worst housekeeper on the planet.  I wish when my kids walked down stairs my brain did not picture them falling and hurting themselves.  But it does unless I have the medicine to slow it down.

I hope that new moms never have to feel like I did.  But, more than that, I hope that if they do, they have no fear or shame in getting help.  I hope that my own shame and sadness at being like I am goes away too.  I need to read more great articles like this one from Postpartum Progress and spend more time with my Twitter #ppdchat army.  And most of all, I need to stop worrying about the mental wiring I’ve passed on to my sweet boys because by the time they need help, it won’t be so hard to get it.

An Ode To Twitter

Okay, um, crap. I can’t write an ode. (I do know what one is though. Hooray for an English degree!  It really helps me take care of my twins and what-not.) So, this is not an ode but more a stream-of-consciousness, word-gift thingy.

I typed in 'ode' on Google Images and got this. What the what?!?!? I like it though. I'm keeping him.

Twitter sounded dumb to me at first.  I thought I was above it frankly.  I have a college degree, why would I be interested in your silly tweets?  It’s the end of English as we know it!  People can’t put together a whole essay blog post anymore!  Why can’t I find a carraige to take me to the ball?

Then I moved to Poland.  I got all kinds of lonely.  No one was reading my blog.  (Except you Mom, I can always count on you.)  Anyway, I needed to connect with some English speakers and some reality TV lovers.  (Seriously, Miss High and Mighty English Teacher is sickly addicted to reality TV.)

I got my account and found my people.  All of my people.  The funny ones.  The gossips.  The intellectuals.  The celebs.  The Mommy Bloggers.  And on and on.  It took me about 25 seconds to adore it.  I knew I would love writing tweets because my thoughts are random and just need to be blurted out to make room in my head for more important things like where my kids are.  I did not expect to enjoy reading my timeline so much every day.  I did not expect the benefits beyond just feeling like I could release all my words.

The day I found out you could chat with a whole group of people on Twitter was an awesome day.  It was the day I found my #ppd ladies.  I was having a tough time.  My depression is now just plain ol everyday depression and not postpartum anymore, but I felt like maybe this was a place I could find answers.  And I found them instantly.  Not the magic spell to make me more calm but kind words and some Amens from the chorus.  I got 4 new followers.  I got 4 new friends.  I really think that if I had had Twitter when the boys were born, I would have gotten treatment for my postpartum depression way sooner than 7 months after their birth.

I’ve also accidentally become a better person.  Or at least done some really good thinking about stuff.  Thank you to the people who have made me stop saying I feel bipolar because I’m prone to SLIGHT mood swings.  Not cool dude, that diagnosis is serious.  Thank you to the moms who’ve taught me more about loss and what real parenting problems are.  Also, thank you to my sweet moms who remind me to be positive instead of going for the easy sarcasm and bitterness.  Sometimes a better outlook is needed.  (Of course sometimes a fart joke works too.)

I’ve seen Twitter actually make a real difference in people’s lives.  Strangers in real life, but friends on Twitter reaching out to save someone they only know from her writing.  Reaching out to bring joy to a little girl who lost her brother.  Sending good luck to a mom who needs to sell her house.  And meaning it.

I also enjoy the fun things I originally sought out.  If you want to read crazy that makes you think, trust me, Twitter has you covered.  The Mommy Bloggers get me all kinds of giggly every day.  Some of you are so the people I want to take out for a drink and some laughs after a day of answering to the demands of my boys.

She hasn't gotten any saner, and now she tweets.

Another thing I get a kick out of is having these people respond to my tweets.  They get nothing out of responding to me.  No money, no fame, just sarcasm and dark humor.  So, it makes it extra cool to get their time and attention.  Women I consider awesome moms and great writers and funny bitches have sent real words to me.  And laughed at my words! Happy nerd alert!!!

Give Twitter a try if you haven’t already.  You can find your people.  It’s like I’m always telling the 7th graders I teach–be patient, your nerds are out there.