Ponderings expressed in song lyrics

I went to see Barenaked Ladies recently. It was my 9th show and I always have a blast. It isn’t the same since Steven Page left especially since they could never perform my favorite song, Break Your Heart, without him. None of them has the voice for it. In fact, the Barenaked Ladies and Persuasions album had a better version of Old Apartment than the one Ed sings because of the voice the man in the Persuasions has. It has a richer more soulful sound and I think he did a better job hitting the high notes.

Pinch Me

Anyway, I was thinking about the following lyrics from Pinch Me which was written by Steven Page and Ed Robertson. Sadly, there have been periods that I could relate to this, especially during periods of deep depression:

“On an evening such as this
It’s hard to tell if I exist
If I packed a car and leave this town
Who’ll notice that I’m not around?”

I have seriously contemplated who would miss me if I wasn’t around or if I would be less of a burden if I just left. This was a serious symptom of my postpartum mood disorder. I regularly wanted to leave. I wonder if there will always be periods, always be episodes, where I will wonder if I exist, where I will wonder if people just won’t notice that I am gone.

I know this is a pretty depressing and introspective post, but I honestly have had these thoughts and feelings. It’s as though someone was able to delve into the depths of my brain and say what I have thought and felt and been too afraid to say.

Perhaps, it’s just me, but I’ve always found music therapeutic and this is just one example of this. It really made me think about these periods as I was sitting there having an amazing time at this concert. So, for today, I will continue to keep these lyrics in mind knowing there’s a time where they will help me through.

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Thoughts on work and the future

I have not worked full-time in several years. In fact, I believe it has been 8 years since my last full-time position. I considered a career change during that period and I took the first class I need to in order to make that change. That was before I got pregnant with my oldest son and after he was born I worked part-time in a related position and I loved it. I couldn’t go back to it after the birth of my second son though as I had to quit when my FMLA time ran out while I was pregnant with him. I actually didn’t even qualify, but they were nice enough to help me out with a leave of absence.

I was fainting while pregnant. It wasn’t just happening when I was standing up or sitting down. I would even faint while laying down. I had a history of fainting, but I hadn’t fainted since I was in my mid-20s. I had to give up driving during this time for obvious reasons. I ended up seeing a cardiologist who had an answer that wasn’t discovered as a child despite visits to cardiologists and neurologists as having several different tests. I was diagnosed with vasovagal syncope and told that it would probably improve again after the pregnancy, but it gets worse with age and I will probably have a problem as a senior. Then, it will likely be treated with medication though some doctors go with a pacemaker which she thinks is far too aggressive.

The backstory during the period before kids

I didn’t work full-time back in those years before my first born due to my illness. I couldn’t get the treatment I needed due to insurance for some time and then I was in and out of partial hospital programs and I was in therapy three times a week. I was also hospitalized once during that time due to suicidal ideation. I wasn’t safe outside the hospital and home alone at the time.

There were some difficult things happening which contributed to the severity of my illness. My husband and I so wanted children, and it just wasn’t happening for us. I had an ectopic pregnancy and a missed miscarriage. I had lost a lot of blood during the D&C that removed the remains of the second baby. We had a diagnosis of unexplained infertility and our reproductive endocrinologist kept telling us we would have a child some day. I had trouble with the hormones during our 2 failed IUI attempts. I was afraid to leave my house so we took a break and never came back.

Around the due date of the second loss, around 4 years after we started trying to have a baby, I gave up. That is when I was so depressed that I couldn’t get off the couch. I couldn’t shower and I wouldn’t eat. Nothing was entertaining and showering was a struggle. That is when I became so suicidal that I had to get more intensive treatment than even the partial hospital program could provide and I went inpatient for 8 days while my medications were adjusted and I got extensive therapy. I got to talk about the trauma of my past and my struggles of the present. I got to utilize a weighted blanket when I became so anxious that I had trouble with my stomach and I couldn’t eat anything at all. It was at those times when I just couldn’t stop crying and calm down that I had this tool along with some anti-anxiety medications.

That hospitalization changed everything. I came out feeling better and the medication adjustment, which needed further adjustment outside of the hospital, was truly my lifesaver. I went back to therapy three times a week and within a month or so, my mood was stable.

Then, my husband and I got the shock of our lifetime. We were pregnant again and so was my sister-in-law. They had problems getting pregnant also, but they started trying after us and I found out she was pregnant before me. For us, this was a very tense time. I had this feeling that this baby was going to be born healthy and I, with the exception of having low blood sugar because he was a big baby and jaundice, he was.

As you can see, there were many stressors that impacted my life at the time which significantly impacted the course of my illness. Hormones, losses, and just this constant feeling that your body cannot do what comes most naturally to others.

Future Career Aspirations

The funny thing is that I don’t have future career aspirations. I have future career anxiety, but I know that I will be expected to work when my kids enter school full-time. I used to work in technology. My last two full-time jobs were working for software companies: one as a software support engineer for a shipping software company and the second as a technical trainer for a healthcare software company. Unfortunately, the tech industry moves at a fast pace and my existing skills are somewhat obsolete. I did take some programming classes last summer to try to bone up on those skills, but I feel like I don’t do these things day in and day out so my skills are not fresh.

That means that the thing that I know is not really something I can do. Plus, the career rehab organization for the state has it listed that I cannot work in this career anymore as it has lead to multiple episodes of my illness that have required intensive therapy. Now, I miss the problem solving that was involved in my day to day activities and both my husband and I aren’t sure if I could balance both the stress in my personal life and a professional life now.

I fear that if I continue to be a “stay at home mom” when my kids are in school people will begin to question why I stay home and that may lead to rumors. I would try to nip the rumors in the bud though my son may do that for me. He’s four and brutally honest. He knows I have something wrong with my brain chemicals and I take medicine to stay healthy and he may tell someone which is OK. I just don’t want to become the brunt of the mom jokes if I don’t go back to work.

How will I know if I can go back to work and when the time is right?

Father’s Day is Here

Father’s Day is a trigger for me due to the history I have with my father. I got through today by honoring the fathers that serve as examples to others.

Last night my husband and I got a date night and saw the Barenaked Ladies. We almost missed it because we had some serious issues with a sitter. I accidentally asked our sitter for Friday night instead of Saturday. It worked out in the end though. I had a blast and it was my 9th show and my husband’s 4th. I don’t know why I have so much fun, but I do. It’s not the same since Steven Page is gone because the other guys singing his parts doesn’t sound as good. I just found out Steven released a new album though and I have heard little blips and I love the content. It’s dark and it’s about recovery.

Father’s Day and my father

I don’t have any contact with my father so for me Father’s Day is a trigger to all of the verbal and emotional abuse that I experienced at his hands as a child. This year, I have used mindfulness and maybe a bit of the wise mind ACCEPTS skills today. I’m focusing on what is going on today, at this very moment, and today I see how loving my husband is towards our children. I see how happy they make him and how good of a father he is to the boys, both setting boundaries and comforting them.

I’m also making a special dinner to honor him tonight. I’m making baked ziti with salad. I also bought bread and ice cream cake for dessert. My 2 year old egg allergic son can eat it which was one of the reasons I bought it instead of a different cake. The sauce for dinner has been on the stove since about noon. I simmer it low and slow for hours. My oldest even helped me make it and he’s so proud of himself.

We have to call my father-in-law to wish him a happy Father’s Day and sitting here thinking about it is making me sad. It’s not the same wishing him a happy Father’s Day as it would be to my biological father as there should be two people that I’m wishing this to.

My four year old didn’t know I had a father for a while. He just assumed that I’d been born without one. I was doing our family tree and I had to explain that I had a dad, but he was mean and he hurt grandma. I told him that he’d never have to meet him. He has seen him thought at a family event. My father has never seen my youngest child, at least not in person.

This day makes me wonder whether or not I will regret not seeing him before he dies. Hubby says that I will never know how I will feel at his death, but he knows that nothing good will come of his re-entry into my life. My siblings have also cutoff contact with him and my husband rightfully feels that there’s a reason for that.

He gave me by bipolar diagnosis. I can trace it back at least 3 generations on his side of the family. One of my relatives was diagnosed as insane and wasn’t allowed to enter the US. My father is still in denial that he has bipolar disorder though which is one of the reasons that his children avoid him. Untreated, he is abusive and cruel.

I have two blessings to honor today though. My husband is the best father that I have ever known. He is loving, fun, kind but sets boundaries, and he makes time for them, even when work and other things get in the way. We also honor my father-in-law who raised my husband.

Mood Update

I got a big chunk of sleep though I still only got 6 hours which isn’t typically enough for me. I feel good today though. I’m neither up nor down. Right now, my anxiety is in check as well. Perhaps, last night’s fantastic date night is just what I needed to get back on track. I have also been consistently busy, but it was low stress. Structure has always been helpful. Hopefully, the pattern will continue. My husband and I agreed to a check-in tonight to determine if I need to call the psychiatrist to quickly nip any potential episode in the bud early. At this point, I think this weekend has warded the call and kept the demon in hibernation.

Am I in for an episode?

Sleep has been inconsistent and elusive and I worry that I may be in for an episode of depression or mania. There have been events around the end of the school year that have impacted my mental health as well.

I wonder if I am due for an episode. It’s been a week without a night of solid sleep. I’m still tired so that’s a very good sign for me. I need to get sleep though or I am going to swing one way or another and parenting while depressed or manic is very difficult. I can barely take care of myself and sometimes I cannot even do that. Thus, I’m trying to ward off the demon lurking in the shadows.

It started with missing my morning medications twice this week. My routine was thrown off and I just forgot. It wasn’t anything intentional and I would never intentionally skip any medication without speaking to a physician first. I know my illness cannot go treated without a medication in my case. I have tried and then I ended up fighting for stability for years. I’m not going to fall into that trap again where I think I can do without the medications or that I am better off without them for whatever reason.

For me, at the time, it was the desire to have children. I felt, based on some opinions off ill-informed medical professionals, that being on medication would result in children who had horrible birth defects. Later, talking to people who actually understood the research and work with people with mood disorders, I learned that no two medications are equal and neither are any two patients. There is solid data around the effects of medication in pregnancy and a patient can do research around these medications with their psychiatrist and, perhaps, more of an expert.

Lack of sleep is a trigger for depression, mania, and mixed episodes for me. I think that it might be time to take something to help me sleep. I need to do all I can to control an illness that is sometimes uncontrollable.

Speaking of the lurking demon

My son’s last day of school was Wednesday and there was a family day on Friday. My social anxiety was out in full force to the point where I had stomach problems all morning before the event. I couldn’t stay home because my son was looking forward to this for two weeks. He even knew the date on the calendar. I knew I didn’t have a physical ailment so that was out of the question as an excuse.

I didn’t let the demon win. I went to the event knowing my husband would be there for a time and I believed that would be helpful. In reality, his presence wasn’t helpful because we took a divide and conquer approach with the boys and we were separated most of the time. I avoided the other parents like the plague as I was petrified. I did say goodbye and thank you to his teacher who is not returning next year. I did it though. I went. I let my son play with his friends and do the various activities. My anxiety didn’t stop him from having a good time. The demon didn’t win.

I immediately felt better upon leaving. I was no longer shaking and my stomach had settled. I used this time as a learning experience for my son. He knows I have a mental illness and we’ve talked about it before. I explained that was really hard for mommy and that we should do those things that are hard for us. We should try to do those things that are not easy.

Final proud mama brag

My speech delayed vision impaired son had a perfect report card. I’m not sure how to refer to his vision problem so vision impaired might not be the correct terminology and if that’s the case, I’m sorry.

He had Ms for meets expectations for everything. The M means that the kids are kindergarten ready in those particular areas and the goal is to have all Ms in the June before Kindergarten. Well, my kiddo has another year before he enters kindergarten and I’m so proud!! I knew he was smart, but I’m so excited that his issues aren’t holding him back.

Child Vision Problems and Mommy Guilt

My four year old has vision problems. We learned of them a few months ago and saw an optometrist who determined that he has bilateral refractive amblyopia or, in simple terms, two lazy eyes. The optometrist and I both felt that he saw well enough to go without glasses for a year just because 4 year olds are rough on glasses and because it wasn’t having a major impact on his life. The optometrist said we really have until 7 to fix the problem as his goal is to teach his brain how to see.

Enter today’s bombshell….

His vision is impacting his fine motor skills which is being seen at school. He’s in preschool and he cannot bead a string.

So he has to get glasses.

The doctor’s office is mailing the prescription based on our visit 2 weeks ago where they determined that he has a significant astigmatism in both eyes. Unfortunately, this is genetic as I also have astigmatism and I wear glasses. My husband has astigmatism as well and he wears glasses for the computer.

The good news that hopefully he won’t need them older and that his brain will learn to see based on the messages his eyes send. I’m not quite sure how it works, but I have done some reading so I do believe the optometrist.

Now I’m laying the guilt on myself.

I’m feeling guilty about the problems my four year old has between speech and now his vision. I don’t want to get any flack for this, but my doctors kept me on medication while I was pregnant with him. I had just gone through an 8 day inpatient stay 3-4 months before I got pregnant and they all thought that it was better for the baby that I be stable versus depressed as the risk of depression in pregnancy was higher than that of the medications that I was on. I saw perinatal psychiatrists and regular psychiatrists. I was in therapy 3 times a week. I was the most stable I had been for a really long time.

Now, logically I know that my husband had a speech problem as a young child so that is likely genetic. It has nothing to do with my medication. The kid is a chatterbox, but he’s difficult to understand.

Again, my husband and I both have astigmatisms and the optometrist told me it was genetic in my kiddo’s case. That means, again, that it had nothing to do with the medication that I was on to keep myself and my baby healthy.

In case you didn’t know, there are risks associated with being depressed during pregnancy to both the mother and the baby. One of the biggest is pre-term birth and another is low birth weight.

Here’s an article on it:

Depression in Pregnancy Doubles Risk of Preterm Birth

In the end, in my heart, I know I did what was best for my sons, myself, and my entire family, but every time something comes up or is wrong, I blame the medications. I have to let that go. I have to let that go.

A word of advice for any bipolar mamas.

I do strongly recommend that any pregnant women with bipolar disorder does extensive research about medications and sees the real specialists. My medication regiment was “approved” by both my psychiatrist and a perinatal psychiatrist. The perinatal psychiatrist was up on all the studies on the medications that were taken during the gestational period. She told me the risks, explained the research to me, and even went over what to expect after the baby was born. For example, I now know topamax isn’t safe during pregnancy for sure no questions while lithium is kind of an eh… because it slightly increases the risk of a heart defect that causes a hole in the heart that can be repaired via surgery.

I took neither of those medications. The one thing we knew about my medication is that my medication might cause cleft lip/cleft palate, but the research leaned more toward that being a non-risk factor as only 1 study of several including a long-term registry showed that there an increased risk of cleft palate when compared to the general population.

Oh, and we were also told that there was a chance that the baby may cry a lot the first few days and that I should get help with the night feedings. For me, it meant no breastfeeding, but again, it’s what I needed to do for myself and my family. A healthy safe loving mom is far more valuable than breast milk. Those boys need their mom and I do whatever I need to in order to be for them always. That includes doing things like taking medication, therapy, and not breastfeeding for me. It may mean different things for others based on their own situations, but that’s mine.

Therapy and DEAR MAN

Last night, I had therapy and I spoke of some communication breakdown issues that I have been having. Of course, I didn’t actually KNOW that was the issue until we sort of teased it out. We did some role playing using the DEAR MAN skill primarily. So, this is how it went:

D – Describe the situation using a non-judgmental stance. (We through a little GIVE in here with gentle manner.) It’s important to us that we get to see you and we appreciate that we have the opportunity to stay with you when we are there. The house is 2 bedrooms though and there are four of us. It can get crowded and we are also on our family vacation making memories.

E – Express. We appreciate your hospitality, but feel like we are putting you out. It gets crowded after some time and this really is our only trip so we really want to make some family memories. Plus, the boys don’t really have playgrounds or any areas to play because you live in a 55 plus community.

A – Assert. Ask for what you want. We really would like it if we could spend half of the time in your home and the other half of our trip in a hotel. It is rare for us to get the opportunity to stay in a hotel and the boys enjoy it.

R – Reinforce. Tell them what’s in it for them. It must be difficult for you to have 4 additional people in your home. This will give everyone some space while we get to spend time together. Plus, if we stay at a hotel we are more likely to spend more time in town.

M – Stay Mindful. Be a broken record and stay on track if the subject is changed. We really appreciate the opportunity to stay with you and we really love spending time with you and we really would like some space for some of the trip.

A – Appear Confident. Maintain eye contact. Use a strong voice. Go in believing that this is going to be a success.

N – Negotiate. We are flexible as to how we split the time between the hotel and your home. Lets figure out what works best for everyone. (If they don’t agree to splitting the trip 50/50.)

So, now I have roleplayed a scenario with DEAR MAN that can be useful. My above example isn’t really perfect because I’m not going off our exact words unfortunately. It’s close enough though.

The stigma won’t silence me

I haven’t blogged in years until yesterday and there is a huge reason for that – stigma. I had been told that based on my publicly blogging about my mental illness that I was not employable. She found out that I had bipolar disorder around the same time and told me it didn’t change anything, but suddenly I was unemployable because I had an illness. She compared it to people sharing images of themselves partying Girls Gone Wild style and it has hurt me since. My life is NOT a party. It’s not a choice. I have to cope with the challenges placed before me due to my illnesses and I am continuing to learn and implement skills to do so.

I have mentioned that I have bipolar disorder. I received a bipolar disorder type 2 diagnosis in 2002 which was later changed to bipolar 1 with mixed features. I have also been diagnosed with various forms of anxiety with the latest being anxiety NOS or anxiety not otherwise specified. My anxiety typically revolves around people and social situations though which is why my main anxiety diagnosis has consistently been social anxiety disorder or agoraphobia with panic. The anxiety stuff for me is confusing.

In 2010, I was also diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. At first, when they were doing the screening I was confused. I thought of course I have these symptoms. I have bipolar disorder. Then, I learned that they are not one and the same and the stigma facing BPD is even more extreme than that of those with bipolar disorder. Insurance isn’t even required to cover it to the same degree. People with this disorder are seen as needy manipulators, even in some psychiatric literature.

Over the course of several years, I have developed DBT, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, skills to help me handle the emotional extremes, the abandonment fears, the outbursts, the self harm urges, and all of the other qualities that I scored high in during my screening. Now, I only have traits. I don’t have enough of the symptoms to classify as having BPD. I still have the attempts to thwart real or imagined abandonment and emotion regulation is an ongoing learning experience.

So, now that you know about my issues, I want to share an article written by NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall about the stigma around mental illness. I found it well written and it inspired my post.

Brandon Marshall on the Stigma around Mental Illness

This said, I’m no longer going to give into the stigma. I am going to tell my story, still anonymously, but I’m going to tell it. Once I know I can handle the negative reactions of the ones that I love, I will share with my name and shout it from the rooftops. I have nothing to be ashamed of and no one else with a mental illness should be ashamed either. I wouldn’t be ashamed to say that I had cancer, heart disease, fibromyalgia, or a host of other illnesses. I’m not going to be ashamed of this any longer. My kids are going to know that their mama is a strong woman with an illness who isn’t afraid to admit it.