Before we get too far, I do use affiliate links to bring in income for site costs. As such, there may be links within this post to allow you to purchase items discussed. If you chose to purchase, I get a small fee but you don’t have to pay anything extra. If you have questions, see my disclosures here. On to the post!
When Morgan was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, I was completely terrified. It seems horrible to say now, but that’s just what it was. I’d barely heard of the disorder so all I really had was personal experience, and frankly, that gave me little hope. That week, I went to my therapist and told him the newest thing that seemed to be going wrong in my life and the first thing he said was “It’s okay.” And then he suggested a book… Enter, I Hate You – Don’t Leave Me (Amazon | iTunes)
Jerold J. Kreisman’s book is a bit of a classic. Having worked at Barnes and Noble for quite a few years, it was definitely a familiar title, but I had no idea what it was about. After my therapist recommended it, though, I started thinking in earnest: There are resources. Maybe we can make it through this. I opened the book and read the first chapters and started thinking again. This time: Wow…we CAN get through this!
Who should read this?
Let’s start with the obvious: if you know someone with borderline or have borderline yourself, you should definitely read this. That said, it’s not just useful for people with borderline personality disorder. It’s also a great resource for anyone who struggles with emotions, relationships, trust, communication, and so on. It doesn’t have all the answers, and it certainly has its flaws, but it’s a great place to start. And for those with BPD, it gives you the chance to see you’re not alone and that it can get better.
I’d also recommend it to anyone who’s interested in learning more about the lives of people diagnosed with this particular disorder. Kreisman makes liberal use of real life scenarios to help the reader understand things from both perspectives.
Who shouldn’t read this?
Well, if your life is fine and stable, it’s probably not a great resource for you. I also did find it occasionally disheartening because it tends to view committed relationships as an impossibility (or, at least, highly improbable) for those with borderline. As someone who loves a borderline sufferer, it’s frustrating to see. I ultimately sought other resources to learn more about how to maintain healthy relationships in this situation.
It’s important to note, too, that even the revised and updated edition still is rather out of date in terms of treatment and societal changes. While the revised edition is more positive than the original, it does sometimes treat borderline as a hopeless diagnosis. When you add in the parts that are slightly less open-minded, like a suggestion that borderline sufferers also partake in “sexual perversion” like homosexuality….. yeah…. You have to read this with the understanding that it still shows some of its original character.
And with that…I do feel it is well worth the investment. Morgan and I have both read and actually referred to it a few times when dealing with some of the harder days. I know for a fact this will stay on my shelf within easy reach for years to come. And, if it’s not one you can afford or you’re not sure you want to invest in your own copy, almost every library has it! Just make sure you’re grabbing the updated version!
Okay, folks…before I get too far into this, it bears mentioning that I am (obviously) not a professional! In all of this, I can only speak from personal experience so please take all of the advice given here as it’s meant: from a friend to a friend. Now that all of that is out of the way, let’s get to it!
Talking to your kids about health issues is never easy. We struggle with what to say, how to say it, and when. How much should we share? Do they really need to know the details? When should we tell them something is wrong? As soon as we learn about it? After we’ve had time to process it ourselves?
The truth is, only you can really know the answer to these questions. You know your children better than anyone and so you will know what information they can handle and how best to share it. Still, there are some things that remain consistent no matter the kid, and there are some things that I’ve learned along the way, too. That’s what I’m here to share!
General Bits of Wisdom
1. Always be honest.
When you’re talking to your kids, whether about mental illness or almost anything else, it’s important to be as honest as possible. When it comes to something as serious as health issues, it’s especially critical to be honest. This is going to affect your children, no matter what happens. You need to be open with them about what to expect, what is happening, and what they can do. If you don’t, they’ll figure it out anyway and you will likely damage your relationship and trust with them.
2. Keep that info age appropriate.
Everyone is different. My 9-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son get the same information, but I present it differently based on their ability to understand what’s going on. My daughter knows enough to understand when I say I’m severely depressed. My son, on the other hand, doesn’t understand much more than “Mommy’s really sad.” Both are completely honest in their own way, but also within grasp of the kiddos.
3. Talk to them as soon as you can.
Seriously. You never know when things might change, and they need to be prepared. I know that you may not be ready right away, and that’s alright, but until you talk to them they are only living based on what they can imagine.
4. Take your time.
This is not a sprint. You will likely have this conversation again and again, so take the time to think about what you’re saying and how you’re going to say it. Introduce the topic, come back to it later, go at their pace. Some kids are totally okay with sitting and listening to a whole lesson about what’s happening, but my littlest would totally run away. Heck, even the 9-year-old will only stay put for about 10 minutes.
5. Explain what this illness means for the sick person as well as what it means for your kids.
Your kids are going to see this first hand and if you have the sort of illness that has very visible symptoms, that can be pretty frightening if they don’t know what to expect. Take the time to tell them what the illness looks like. In my case, for example, it means there are days in which I’m really cranky and need personal space and quiet. I explained that on those days, I may need to spend time in my room until I feel better. Or, it may mean that I ask for extra hugs. We’ve also talked about how my anxiety makes me sensitive to textures, so my daughter helps on those days by giving me the smooth handled spoons at dinner. Which brings me to the next tip…
6. Let them know how (if) they can help!
It’s so hard to feel powerless when someone you love is hurting, especially when you’re a kid. Giving them things they can do to help gives them the power to respond and pride that they are caring for someone they love. It may be nothing more than giving a hug (or getting the smooth spoons), but it’s a big thing for them. So try to think of something they can do when you’re struggling, even if it may not help. To that end, also make sure they know that what they do probably won’t fix what’s going on, but it means a lot that they want to help.
Why do our kids need to hear this? – A Story
Now for the hard truth, learned from personal experience…
When I was a kid, my grandfather had a heart attack that put him in the hospital. I always knew he had heart problems and had even had a triple bypass (not that I had any clue what that was), but when he went back to the hospital I was understandably scared. They told me he needed surgery again, that the success rate for a second surgery wasn’t very high for someone like him, but everyone had hope.
I asked about him almost every day. I asked how he was doing (he’s alright), when I’d get to see him (in a bit, he’s still hooked up to machines and it might scare you), and if he was getting better (every day!). I knew everyone was scared, but no one wanted to talk about it. The day he died, my dad tore out of the apartment for the hospital. I asked about Grandpa that morning and got the same answers as before, but I knew then it was a lie.
To this day, I have no idea why they didn’t tell me what was going on. As an adult, I can guess. Maybe they were waiting for things to change or they hoped if they said it enough, that he’d get better. Maybe they just didn’t want to think about it. Whatever the reason, I learned something very important that day…
I couldn’t trust them anymore.
In my world, that morning my grandfather was getting better and he’d be home soon, but that night, he was gone.
The moral of the story
No matter how you do it, it’s critical you talk to your kids about your mental illness. This is something that will affect both of you and how you handle it now will set the tone for your relationship now and as they grow up. Parenting is hard work, but when you’re a parent with a chronic mental illness, it gets extremely hard. Making sure your family is educated goes a long way to keeping everyone healthy.
And, as hard as it is to hear, when we have a mental illness, chances are good they will, too. Take the time. Teach them now. You will both be better for it.
I’ll admit, I’ve been sitting at my computer for hours trying to figure out how to start this post. I was chatting with a student at work the other day about mental illness, specifically bipolar, and why it terrifies me as much as it does. The truth is, it’s hard to explain. The hypomania isn’t terribly scary and even the depression isn’t that bad, most of the time. Part of that, though, is because of my mom.
I think she must have always known that I would end up with bipolar. After all, she had it, and the chances were high enough that I would inherit it. In fact, some of my earliest memories were lessons on how to regulate myself through meditation, mindfulness, breathing, and so on. Imagine that. I was 6 years old and I could meditate as if I had been born doing it. Talk about a life skill!
A Wise Mind
One of the other things my mom taught me was the importance of remembering there’s an emotional brain, and a logical brain. Ideally, these two brains work together, and you are able to make wise decisions (something Dialectical Behavior Therapy calls, unsurprisingly, the wise mind).
Relevant link: Click here to find a worksheet explaining the basics of wise mind and a brief activity on how it applies to your life.
As I got older, we talked frankly about depression and suicide, and at the center of this was the knowledge of my logical mind and my emotional mind.
See, here’s the thing: she knew that depression was inevitable. It’s horrible to think, but the chances were just too high. So my mom did everything she knew to prepare me. Whether that was a conscious choice on her part, or not, I couldn’t say, but it happened. And the result? For the last couple of decades, I’ve been able to weather almost any depressive episode. How? By remembering one simple fact:
My brain was lying.
Yup. I knew better. I knew that when depression struck, that emotional part of my brain was just taking over and, honestly, it’s a bit of a liar. I knew that because somewhere in there, the logic part of my brain was still screaming,
“What?! That’s ridiculous! Think of all the stress you would cause if you did that. Think of all the things you would miss. And think about all the times you’ve felt horrible and then you’ve gotten better. If you give up now, you’ll miss out on that! Stupid emotional brain, don’t listen to that guy!”
And so I didn’t. I curled up in a ball. I cried. I screamed. I did everything I could and I got through it. Until the day I almost didn’t, because my logic brain threw in the towel.
An Unwise Mind
What’s so scary about bipolar (or any depression, really)? Your brain is trying to kill you. Some days you do everything you can, and it doesn’t matter. On that day, my wonderfully logical brain just rolled over and said: “eh, whatever.”
Internally, I screamed at it. I pleaded. I did everything I could to convince it to keep going, but it didn’t work. For every reason I’d ever had to keep going, it had a perfectly logical reason why I shouldn’t. It was determined to give in.
On that day, my brain truly tried to kill me. And that’s more than scary, it’s terrifying.
I was lucky…
I had a very skilled support network. They were able to keep me going until my family got home, and from there, they took over keeping an eye on me. I was lucky, but many are not.
When I’m asked what severe depression feels like, it’s hard to answer. Suicidal depression is not about being weak. It’s not about hating life, even. Often it’s just an intense weariness from trying to hold on, a point in which your mind turns against you and tries to convince you there’s no reason to continue. Most of us suffering from depression desperately want to live, though.
So, when someone tells you it’s getting too hard, take them seriously. Keep them safe and be the wise mind for them until they get theirs back. Remember, external threats we can run from, but when it’s your mind there isn’t much of an escape.
And for those of you who do suffer from severe depression: remember, it will pass. And until it does, get help. From loved ones. From friends. From others who have been there. Support groups, support networks, even hotlines. There are resources out there for you, so please ask for that help.
And remember, just because the monster trying to attack you is your own brain, doesn’t mean you have to play nice. Call it out for what it is: a lying, manipulative ….well, you know the word.
First off, I’ve gotta ask: is there an extreme mode? Because it sure seems like someone changed the settings on our life and switched it from hard to extreme. Borderline personality disorder is nothing to be messed with. In a moment, our life went from complicated, to extreme challenge, not because anything was intrinsically different but because it was suddenly…real. The ups and downs of the last six years finally had a name, borderline.
What is a personality disorder?
Well, honestly, personality disorders come in a lot of different varieties. According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are three different clusters of personality disorders, clusters A, B, and C. Borderline falls in cluster B, dramatic, emotional or erratic behavior. It includes an unstable sense of self, irrational responses to stress, abandonment fears, and much more. In terms of what it means to a family, that’s a whole new ball game.
What does borderline mean for us?
Life before the diagnosis was challenging, sure, but we kept a balance. Unfortunately, a medication change brought reality crashing down. We didn’t notice it at first, but over the course of a year, Morgan’s emotions started slowly oscillating back and forth, getting more dramatic as time passed. Enter a horrendous series of events, and reality crashed for all of us. Morgan stopped functioning in any predictable way.
Each day held a new uncertainty. Some days she would wake up and go about as if nothing was wrong, but by the evening we would be in tears, and she was desperate to take whatever she could from the family account and run. Where to? I don’t think even she completely knew, but she knew she needed to leave. On other days, she would try desperately to convince me that we should kick her out, that staying meant we were just going to get hurt again. We were walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around conversations we feared would set her off, desperately praying that tomorrow morning would bring a “good day.”
We’re not doctors, for sure, but as soon as we realized something was wrong we started
looking for answers. God bless Google, because it became clear that Borderline might actually be the cause. So, she started therapy in earnest, determined to find answers. It was tense and excruciating, as her therapist understandably wanted to take things slow. An improper diagnosis could set recovery back, and in the case of borderline, that recovery takes years.
Unfortunately, things conspired to push that deadline forward. A few weeks ago, Morgan ended up in the ER and from there into a partial inpatient program. 45 minutes into admission and she had a tentative diagnosis. It was borderline personality disorder. Our worries had been confirmed and at the same time, we had a direction.
So, where are we now?
The journey is just beginning. Borderline personality disorder is incredibly hard for everyone, not just Morgan. While she will be the one going through therapy, we will all need to learn how to help, how to communicate, how to support, and how to live. This is not a disorder that can be medicated like bipolar, but it is something that can be essentially cured. She will need to be in therapy for years, specialized classes to learn coping techniques, and yes, medicated to help alleviate some of the symptoms.
It’s a long journey, at least two years to see noticeable change if we all work really hard it, and ten years to see significant change. But if we keep at it, all of us, it will be worth it in the end. Morgan will be able to have stable relationships, confidence, coping skills for the hard days, and most of all, the ability to trust herself and those she loves.
We have a long, hard road ahead of us. But most importantly, we have hope.
Whoops! Remember that goal I set myself the beginning of May? I was going to get everything migrated to this new site, set up, and all that fun stuff by the end of the month, right?
Well guess what….
Yeah, I was a bit disappointed in myself, to say the least. I spent a good chunk of the end of May actually feeling super guilty and like a, you guessed it, failure.
I had set a goal! I had all the steps lined up, knew exactly what I needed to do, and yet I didn’t do any of it. Why the heck not?!
I felt horrible, to say the least. Especially since this was my first ever “Hey, lets do a monthly goal together!” post. At the very least, I could have hopped on to let you guys know I’d missed the mark (although it was kinda obvious, wasn’t it), but by that point, I’d pulled myself into such a frenzy of guilt and despair that I couldn’t handle coming out and admitting it. It was a trap of my own making and the result was complete inaction.
So, what happened?
Well, to be honest, there are a lot of reasons I didn’t get around to it, and they’re all valid in their own ways. Sometimes that happens. Life happens and we’re too busy trying to keep from drowning to have anything left over for our goals. We do what we can, drop what we can’t, and focus on getting through. That’s what happened for me.
Over the course of May and June, we had two ER visits, one inpatient stay (no, not mine), two partial inpatient programs (also not mine), a new diagnosis in the family, a lost job, and under all of that, the normal financial and time strains. Our house is falling apart (some parts, quite literally) and we’re struggling to stay afloat. It’s the reality of life and when it came down to this or that, I chose that. And honestly, as I sit here typing all of this, I don’t blame myself in the slightest.
Really, it was a smart decision to put the blog on pause while I work through some of the bigger things in my life. That was a choice that needed to be made, and I’m proud of myself for doing it (even if I did beat myself up horribly for it).
So, why the guilt?
Well, sometimes that’s just how it goes. I guess for me, it was the knowledge that everything else was falling down around me and this blog is one of the few things I have complete control over. And yet, I couldn’t even manage it. Instead of continuing the one thing that was completely mine, I dropped it. I let the world get in the way. I let the world take it away from me.
Or at least, that’s how my brain saw it. I know now that I made the right choice, and I’m glad I did it. But at the time, it was hard.
Some days, we’re going to fail. There’s nothing we can do about that fact. Sometimes it’ll be because we made a bad decision and sometimes because we made the right one. That’s how life works.
Some days, whether it was a good or bad choice, we will beat ourselves up over it. That’s life, too.
On those days, if you can, take a deep breath. Remind yourself you’re doing the best you can. Make your choices, pick your battles, and be gentle with yourself if it’s not what you’d expected or initially wanted. Yeah, it’s easier said than done, but we can try.
And, ultimately, that’s the point. We try. We fail or we succeed, but most of all…we try.
So, here I am, creating a blog focused on helping others learn more about mental illnesses and cope with chronic conditions. It’s something I’m very passionate about, for sure, but I need to stress that I am not an expert. In fact, I frequently fail to listen to my own advice. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been in therapy for years. It doesn’t matter that I have a fantastic psychiatrist. Sometimes, I just fail.
And….well…I think you need to know that.
The truth is, we are all doing the best we can. The demons we face internally when it comes to mental health are strong. They take your own brain and turn it against you. They undermine everything you do and try to keep you from ever starting. Depression, anxiety, bipolar, and so on, are strong. Without help, they would be even stronger, but even with help, it’s inevitable that we will lose some battles.
I was reminded of this recently at work. Things happened (what those things are isn’t important), and they broke my control. I’ve been back at work for approximately 4 weeks, and only the last 3 of them were full time (and short work weeks at that). The stress of going from half days to full days tied up with the stress of how busy we are and how short staffed, well, it’s been keeping me right on the edge of falling apart.
That means, when I got hit by one more thing, a pebble really, I fell right over the cliff. I had a panic attack. At work.
First, let me clarify what a panic attack is for me, because everyone is different. For me, it’s burning skin, watery eyes, shortness of breath, compulsive touching (and picking and clenching) of anything in reach, culminating in intense sobbing and physical collapse.
Yeah, to say it was humiliating and terrifying is an understatement.
Now, as I said, I’ve spent years learning how to cope and get through situations like this. I focused on my deep breathing. I counted, I redirected my mind to a simple task, I mindfully took in my surroundings and the sensations around me. I did everything I could. It didn’t work. By the end of that work day, I had endured three separate panic attacks.
Needless to say, I was exhausted by the end of the day. It was horrible and I hope to never repeat it again but odds are that I will.
Why do I share this with you? Well, I guess because it’s important to be aware that it happens. We all do our best, we fight our battles, and sometimes we lose. Sometimes it’s everything you can do to just get through it until you can retreat and lick your wounds. But, you know what? I got through the day. You can, too.
And remember, we’re all fighting this battle together.
Time for another book review! This one is a little different from my last few. Usually I pick one of my favorite fiction novels, as I tend to read when I’m stressed. This time, however, I want to review a book we picked up for my daughter on a whim.
Before we get too far, I do use affiliate links to bring in income for site costs. As such, there may be links within this post to allow you to purchase items discussed. If you chose to purchase, I get a small fee but you don’t have to pay anything extra. If you have questions, see my disclosures here. On to the post!
Stuff That Sucks is a teen self-help styled guide written by Ben Sedley, and it talks about exactly what the title suggests, a whole bunch of sucky stuff (including the stuff that makes the stuff that sucks suck more). Thankfully, he also talks about ways to accept this and not let it get in the way of what’s important to you.
Confused? Let me clarify a little.
This book is based on a form of therapy called acceptance and commitment therapy, or simply ACT. The main premise behind this particular therapy is learning to accept that sometimes things really do suck. Sometimes you will be worried about something, or scared, or ashamed, or any number of awful feelings, and that’s alright. The idea is to acknowledge the feelings, accept their value, and not let them get in the way of your goals in life. That’s the commitment part.
ACT focuses on creating a value driven life. Think of it like this: We all have something that we care about, a major driving force in who we want to be and something that gives us the reason to continue. Those things are our values. For me, teaching is something very important to me and it influences almost every decision I make in life. In order for me to live a value driven life, I do things that uphold that value. For instance, I regularly make time to tutor, and I always look for new ways of teaching and connecting with my students. I will even find ways to incorporate teaching into my daily life, from being open to answering questions, training at work, to this blog. All of these actions bring me closer to my values.
Stuff That Sucks, in particular, focuses on identifying emotions as they occur, learning ways to feel and accept them. Once the reader has passed that point, the book walks them through how to identify their values and how to create a value driven life.
Who should read this?
Stuff That Sucks is technically marketed as a quick help guide for teenagers, and I’d say they’re a good option. But beyond that, almost anyone could benefit from this book. The fact is, we all go through things that suck now and then, and learning how to live with it is a giant step toward a better life. With that said, I would honestly recommend this for kids as young as 8 or so, depending on their needs. The reading is not overly complex and the content could do a lot for an anxious or depressed child. As for adults, well, lets just say I read it quickly, but I’ve also gone back to it again and again.
Needless to say, I highly recommend this book.
Who shouldn’t read this book?
Avoid it if you live a life without anything bad in it at all. Or maybe don’t avoid it, because I suspect you have someone in your life that could really benefit from it.
A final note
This book is by no means a fix for all that ails you. It is a great tool, but anxiety and depression often require more than just one tool. Proper therapy, medication, and support are also often critical in managing a chronic mental illnesses, so please keep that in mind.
Also, note that this is a “quick guide” and so it’s not going to cover everything that could be learned about ACT (which is also only one of many different therapies for chronic mental health conditions).
I’m going to start this post out by confessing something… I LOVE roller coasters. My favorites are the ones that zoom around with twists and turns and maybe a couple loops. I am not a fan, however, of the ones that launch you in the air like a rocket and then drop you just as fast. Those are just too much for me. Why does this little fact matter? Well, one of the most common analogies for bipolar disorder is a roller coaster ride. As always with mental illnesses, not all will find this accurate, but for me it works pretty well. Let me explain why.
At the Station
Imagine “normal” is the station. This is life as lived by those who don’t suffer from chronic mental illnesses. Here you wait in line for the ride. For some people, those who don’t relapse very often, the line can be incredibly long. You watch a video on your phone, chat with your friends, watch the clouds go by, just generally enjoy life while you wait. Maybe sometimes it’s boring, but it’s steady and predictable.
For those of us with bipolar, and especially those that relapse more frequently, the line is shorter. We may still get time to chat with friends, enjoy some time to relax, but it’s not a long wait. Far too soon, we’re sitting in our car, strapping in, and climbing that hill.
Depending on your view of roller coasters, this can be the best part of the ride. It’s the anticipation of the thrills to come. You’re slowly inching your way up, waiting for that thrilling moment when your stomach drops and you’re speeding off. When you hit the top and the train stops for a second, you hold your breath, and then whoosh! You’re off, and screaming and laughing with glee.
For others, say the friend that was coerced into climbing aboard or the kid that was goaded into it because they didn’t want to look weak, that climb is horrifying. Each click of the car ratchets the fear up one little notch until suddenly, you’re at the top and time stops for just a breath. You exhale. You pray.
You crash. It’s the inevitability of the up, that there will always be a down.
There are different ways to look at this stage through the lens of bipolar. The climb is the elevation of your mood. It’s slow, sometimes too subtle to notice, but it’s there. Eventually, you peak at the top. You are above everything, looking out to see the beauty of the world and you know you can do absolutely anything. This is the mania. This is the point at which most people with bipolar tend to do the most damage to those around them. When you’re on top of the world, anything is possible, even if it really shouldn’t be.
Or maybe that climb up means you slowly grow happier and more engaged. Maybe you’re finally getting things done. Maybe you’re chasing dreams, and it’s amazing until that moment when you reach the top. And then…reality sets in, and you realize why you’ve been feeling so good. You realize what’s about to happen. Everything is about to fall apart. That’s what it is for me when I’m in a hypomanic state. I don’t typically realize it’s happening until I hit the top and see the inevitable fall before me.
One Wild Ride
A common theme you’ll hear from those of us with bipolar is that with every up, there comes a down. Our manic, or hypomanic, episodes tend to be followed with a swift and brutal depression. Everything becomes harder. It’s like the pressure you feel as you’re whipped around that coaster right, forcing your head back into the seat and causing you to hold on desperately to the car. If you’re at all nervous about that roller coaster, chances are this is the time when you pray that your restraint holds, and you envision all the terrible ways you are about to die.
Yeah, let’s be honest. That’s a pretty literal translation of what it’s like to experience bipolar depression. You’re just holding on, praying that you stay safe, and envisioning all the ways that you won’t. It’s terrifying.
Returning to the Station
Eventually, though, things stabilize again. Your train car pulls in to the station, and you get off the ride. You can finally relax, unclench your fists, take a deep breath, and walk away. At least, you can in a real roller coaster.
For me, though, that exit leads straight into the entrance and I’m forced back in the line. With proper medication, therapy, and support, I might end up with a long wait before I get on the roller coaster again. But no matter what, I will eventually be forced on it again.
It happens to every parent. You’re going about your day when you suddenly notice the massive pile of clothes in the middle of the floor. And then you see the juice on the counter because someone didn’t bother putting it away. And then, it’s the chewed up pen that the dog got to, and the baby is screaming, and you have to make dinner but there are no pans, and, and, and. And suddenly, you snap.
“That’s it! I’m done! Do your own dirty work from now on,” you say, stomping off to your room and slamming the door.
Okay, maybe not. Maybe you manage to keep your cool, let the annoyance simmer under your skin, and get things moving. I know for a fact that I can’t, though, because when I talk about sanity, I mean dictionary definition of sanity. In my world, days like this can mean a full swing into a depressive state, and if my environment doesn’t get better, that can turn in to weeks of depression. Even worse, a chaotic environment tends to ratchet up the anxiety, which means I get really irritable and end up isolating for the sake of everyone. It’s a terrible cycle, all around.
So, how do I keep sane? Well, there are a few different things I’ve found that help.
1. Stave off what chaos you can.
Now, this comes with the understanding that some things you really can’t control. Others in the house are bound to put their stamp of mess on the public spaces, but you can focus on keeping your own personal refuge tidy and comforting. In this way, if you do end up with an explosion in the rest of the house, you have a safe space to retreat that doesn’t add to the stress.
And on that topic:
2. Have a personal refuge!
I know for some this is easier said than done, but it is really helpful if you can manage it. Your refuge doesn’t have to be anything big, even. I personally have a bedroom of my own right now, but in the past, I’ve had a corner of a room, a walk-in closet, a utility room, and even a fort under the table. Okay, that last one was a little more temporary, but it worked! In the end, it’s about having a space that is all your own where you can take a deep breath and regroup.
3. Enlist help.
Guess what. If your kids are the ones leaving clothes and stuff all over the floor, it’s totally fair to make them clean it up! Likewise, if the spouse is sitting around and there are dishes needing doing, get them on it! Most of the time, I’ve found family members are more than willing to help with the workload if they know what to do. As much of a pain as it can be, teaching them what to look for can help in the long run. And in the short term, you get an army of helpers!
4. Pick a small thing and attack it.
Maybe for tonight you just wash the one pan you need most. Or maybe you just focus on moving the clothes to wherever they belong. Whatever it is that you can do, go ahead and do it. Even the little things can make a huge difference and sometimes the little things add up to big things!
5. If all else fails, get a baby and dog sitter, pack up the rest of the household and run away.
Okay, maybe don’t run away… Still, keep in mind that it’s okay to pick your battles. Sometimes that means you leave the dishes until tomorrow and get food somewhere else. Or, if that’s too expensive, let the kids make sandwiches. Either way, people get fed and you get a little less fed up.
9 years ago, I was sold a lie. That in itself is bad enough, but the heartbreak of it was that I had no idea until it was too late. In fact, many new parents are lied to, every day, and in the most oblivious way. Well wishers, proud parents, tell you how lucky you are and how much you are going to treasure your new child. When they’re born, you’ll look into those big eyes and your heart will swell.
Well, guess what. That’s not necessarily true. Let me tell you a story about what it was like for me.
Waiting for Baby
My daughter was born the end of August, on a day that I can’t remember much about. It might have been hot, it might have been windy (it probably was because its always windy here). I honestly don’t know though, partly because I was busy getting ready to birth a child and partly because I had to be induced, so I was admitted the night before.
My mom had arrived two weeks beforehand because she wanted to make sure she was here whenever the kiddo showed up. Mom showed up on my due date and the kid…well, she waited the full two weeks. I didn’t mind though as I knew it was my time with my mom, and likely to be the last bit of “free” time I would have. Or rather, on the surface I knew that. Every mother out there was telling me to cherish these last bits of time carrying her because it’s “so much harder once they’re on the outside.” I’m not saying they were wrong, but I really wanted my own body back.
That said, the pregnancy wasn’t actually difficult. My mood was fine, appetite and activity level were pretty normal, and I tested perfectly on all of my check-ins. I just really hated being pregnant. Some parents cherish the feeling of their child in them, but I found it creepy. There was a whole ‘nother human in there, waiting to get out. I didn’t like that. But I did like getting to have Mom all to myself.
Suffice to say, delivery was painful. I mean, I don’t imagine any one who has birthed a child would disagree, as all forms of delivery come with their own pains. Induction is supposed to be one of the hardest but I couldn’t say, since my son came on his own schedule and it was pretty much miserable too. I do remember the moment I accidentally turned the TV on with my elbow, because Mike was suddenly distracted from counting me through my contractions. He denies it to this day, but I know better.
Eventually, she made her way into the world, 8 lbs 14.7 oz, scaly and hairy, and according to the doctors, absolutely perfect. It was that moment a parent dreams for, the moment you lay eyes on your creation for the first time, you lovingly cradle their hands and count fingers. A nursing mom is encouraged to bring their baby to feed in that first hour and I appropriately obliged, but it was a little off. The nurse helped me reposition and latch correctly and gave us our privacy. My husband stared down at us, tears in his eyes.
But still, something was off.
I’m not sure when I figured it out, but eventually I realized my magic moment was never coming. I cradled the child that I had created, I did all the actions I was supposed to, but the feelings of love and awe never appeared. Everyone I had spoken to told me that all the pain was worth it because when you hold your baby for the first time, you feel a fullness, a rush of joy and love.
It was a lie.
Or rather, it was a lie for me. At the time I didn’t know it, but not every new parent feels love and joy when they meet their baby. For some of us, it takes time to develop a connection. For me, it was over two years for that sense of awe to arrive. Two years. Somewhere between the bipolar disorder and the severe postpartum depression, it was impossible for me to feel that love.
Quick aside: this is actually something I have discussed with my daughter, now that she is older. I have always tried to keep the conversation as positive as possible, but also realistic. If she grows up with the same illnesses I have, I want her to be aware what it might mean.
So, we come to the meat of the conversation: how do you connect when you have no sense of connection?
First things, First:
If you have postpartum depression, GET TO THE DOCTOR. Seriously. Postpartum is hard, but postpartum depression is scary. I was very grateful that Mike and I had talked about it before Eileen came along because as soon as I started to feel unsafe, he got me help. Far too many horrifying things happen because parents don’t want to reach out when they start to feel off. So yeah. Talk to someone you trust and get help.
Second things, Second:
Remember, not everyone is going to feel like they’re in a magical wonderland when baby arrives. Sure, for my son, I felt my heart swell and I wanted to constantly cuddle and love on him. But the first time around? No. The only time I felt love for her was when we were nursing, and you can probably blame that on the chemicals. So, if you’re a new parent and your heart isn’t swooning at the sight of your new creation, don’t worry. Keep them safe and alive and chances are good you’ll get there.
So, how to stay connected?
Well, to that I have no answer. I wish I did, but it was all I could do to stay present during those two years. My husband (thank God for him) did almost all of the parenting, and ultimately it cost him his job. We lived with his parents for a good part of those two years, too, and they helped a bit then. But me, I was just too disconnected. I threw myself into work, telling myself we really needed the money so it was good that I worked so hard. Sometime, though, I look back and wonder if it was a lie I told myself to ease the pain.
Ultimately, I moved away to go to school full time while my husband and baby girl (who was two at that time, so not quite a baby anymore) stayed behind. We talked every night and they visited as often as they could, but I was here and they were most definitely there.
By the time we were reunited, I had missed years. It wasn’t until 2014, around my daughter’s 6th birthday, that we were finally living in one house. And, somehow, it was different. Somewhere in those 6 years, my heart healed. Maybe it was all that time. Maybe it was the realization of how much I’d lost that I would never get back, but finally I felt the love I’d been promised so long ago.
I don’t know how it happened, though. I wish I did, because I know so many other parents go through the same pain and I wish I could hand them the key to fix it.
But I can’t.
Instead, I teach them what I learned. I tell them congratulations, and wish them well. When they ask for advice, I tell them “It’s okay if you don’t love your child right away. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. You will love them eventually, even if you don’t feel it to start with.”
It may seem an odd bit of advice, but I promise I will never sell a new parent the same lie I was faced with those two years. And I promise I will do anything I can to help them if they ever land in the same place.