Category

The Mental Health

Four

One of the first things I do each morning after getting up with the kids (who needs alarm clocks when you have a William?) is open up the Timehop app on my phone. This isn’t an ad, I’m not being paid, promise. I just like to see what we’ve done in years past, see if there were any significant milestones or occasions that we’ve forgotten about. Mostly I’m in it for the baby pictures.

This morning was just like every other morning in that routine and then I saw a picture that, in some far corner of my brain I knew was coming, but that I had mostly forgotten about. Because 4 years ago today was our worst day. It was the day that Eli crawled head first off a hotel bed and got a brain bleed.

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Now, this is significant in two ways. First, the year after this event, when I was in the thick of PTSD, I lived and died by the 23rd of each month. It was a marker and March 23rd was the most significant. I thought I would always feel that way. I’m thrilled to have been wrong. Had the picture not popped up on my timehop, I don’t know if or when I would have remembered. And that is nothing short of amazing. The person I am now can scarcely recognize the person I was the months before this happened and the last 12-18 months after.

That is a great thing.

The other thing that is significant is that we are four years out. Eli is doing great. Great enough that we forgot that this happened. It will always be a part of our story, but it’s no longer in the prologue.

I had a conference with Eli’s preschool teacher last month and she has absolutely zero concerns about him transitioning to kindergarten (kindergarten! My baby!) in the fall. And we have an MRI that showed no residual damage. Maybe everyone else knew this would be the outcome, but it wasn’t always so clear to us or to Eli’s physicians.

And so 4 years older, wiser and approximately 10 million times happier, I’m glad to say that everything turned out unimaginably great. Eli is great. My mental health is great. The fall and the bleed and the days in the hospital are things that happened and they were terrible, but here we are.

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And we are great.

Unfiltered

About three months ago, I realized that I was running low on the psych medication I’ve taken for 2.5 years for anxiety and PTSD. I had forgotten to ask for a refill at my physical in February, and my yearly appointment with the gynecologist wasn’t until late May. I could’ve called my doctor and begged, but when I noticed that I was low on medication, I also realized that things were good. I mean, life was normal level of stressful and challenging, but I was good within the stresses.

So I started a slow wean of the medication. I spoke with my husband at length before doing this and made a promise to him that if things took a turn once I was off, in any way, I would go back on without hesitation or complaint. The most important thing is being able to be here for my family, be present and be happy.

The first few weeks I felt a major difference. Much more so than I expected. Everything, good and bad, felt big. I almost cried at work when a coworker was sort of short with me. On the other end of the spectrum, on multiple occasions, my kids did something so cute or sweet that I literally burst into tears. But I realized that these were what unaltered feelings were and I would need to take some time to get used to them.

I think it should be clarified here, I never felt like things were dull or not significant when I was on the medication. I felt happy and sad while on it and never felt like I missed out on anything. But I also realize now that when I was taking it, I needed things to be dulled. I was not able to handle the full weight of these emotions and taking this medication was unquestionably the right decision for me at that time. I have zero regrets and would do it again if needed.

It’s been 2.5 months without any psych meds in my system and it feels…good. Mostly, I enjoy the convenience of not having to remember to take anything each day, which makes me sound super lazy, but, well, I am. And I am enjoying the brightness of unfiltered life at the moment. My promise to my husband remains. I have had anxiety and depression at multiple times in my life and I am not naive enough to believe that they won’t ever return. So I am keeping that car firmly behind the horse and enjoying where I am now while promising to be open to doing what it takes to allow me to be as present and pleasant as possible for my family and friends.

Gosh, it’s sure nice to be here right now.

Normal, Again.

Three years ago was a terrible day. The worst day.

We had big plans to go to Sea World, to have a fun family day when my husband’s conference ended. We were planning to head home after a long week out of town and we had a million things to do. And then it all came to a screeching halt in a single moment. I watched helplessly as my 10 month old baby fell head first off an elevated bed onto what was essentially concrete floors in our hotel room. I was inches away, within reach, but I could not stop it. The sound of him hitting the floor will be forever embedded in my brain.

I knew instantly that he was not okay, even after the first hospital discharged us. And a few hours later, my suspicions were confirmed in the form of a CT scan showing a layer of blood on my baby’s brain. An injury so obvious that another physician walked in the room, peeked over the radiologist’s shoulder and said, oh man, a subdural bleed?

Thankfully, the memories of that day are fading. Eli is now a healthy, happy, smart and sneaky almost 4 year old. He is cognitively bright and despite a few motor planning things, he’s the most quintessentially normal preschooler you will ever meet. And those motor planning quirks don’t slow him down at all. We don’t know if they’re from his brain bleed and we never will, but I’ve finally learned something from all of this.

It doesn’t matter.

The first year after this event, I was a disaster. I was just a complete and utter mess. It took next to nothing to send me into a tailspin. I woke up multiple times a night to save imaginary babies from falling off the bed. I replayed the scene whenever my mind was idle. I was exhausted from constant mental gymnastics. Eli was this normal, growing kid and I was the one who was damaged. I was just so sure that anything that was hard for him was because of this injury.

The second year I was better. I rarely had nightmares, but I was still anxious, especially about Eli’s development. I hovered more than I had ever planned to because I could not bear the idea of another fall. Both boys felt really fragile, even though they obviously weren’t.

The third year I finally feel normal. Like I am the mother I always planned to be. I know that Eli is who he is for a number of reasons. Maybe genetics, maybe environment, maybe because he fell and hit his head and got a brain injury. But it doesn’t matter because this is who he is and I’ve finally learned that if I spend every minute trying to sort out why he is the way he is, I will miss him. And that’s what matters.

I don’t care why it took him a year to learn how to spin his arms in a circle or why he can still only do it backwards. I don’t care why he has a hard time holding up 3 fingers or doing a thumbs up. I care that he does these things on his time, I care that he is happy and healthy and so damn much fun. I care about Eli, as a whole child. Period.

Three years ago was what I hope was the worst day of my life (only because I don’t want to experience anything worse). I have never felt so helpless or scared or guilty. It felt like the whole world was flipped upside down and nothing I could do would right it. But we are okay. We were okay then too, even if I didn’t see it. Even if I didn’t feel like we ever would be again. I hope that in another year even more of these memories will have faded and life will continue to be blissfully, delightfully, normal.

Worth the Work

A few months ago, something changed. I started to get really frustrated with having constant arguments with Eli. Everything was a battle as they are wont to be with toddlers. One morning we bounced from what toys he could take with him, to whether he could wear his shoes in the house, to whether he needed a jacket in the span of like 10 minutes. I hated that I was so frustrated and I hated that our peaceful morning was lost to a battle of wills. I really hated that I was engaging in arguments with my not even 2 year olds.

And so I started thinking. I am a fixer, I know this. I feel like I need to be responsible for everyone and everything and it is exhausting. I have worked so hard to control everything that I can, and yet, things are never controlled. And I finally realized that it was time to stop the madness.

I started with my interactions with Eli. Before I engaged in an argument with him, I took a second to decide whether we really needed to argue. For example, last Friday, he insisted upon bringing a cat toy to his music class. The toy wasn’t gross or huge, it didn’t make any noise and it wasn’t going to be intrusive. So why on earth was I going to fight with him about it? Or yesterday- we were going to the park, I wanted him to wear his tennis shoes, but he found his crocs and put them on himself and did not want to switch shoes. The park doesn’t have sand or woodchips (it’s that rubber stuff), so was there really any reason that wasn’t okay?

And just like that, things got easier. Lest it sound like I’m a permissive parent, that’s not the case at all, but I’ve finally learned how to pick my battles. How to decide what is worth the time and energy of putting up a fight, and what is not. And lo, it is a beautiful thing.

Since then, I’ve been trying to apply it to more than just parenting because I began to see how much easier things were. So I started doing it very intentionally at my work, in my marriage, with my friendships, with this pregnancy. And all I can really say is wow. I am happier and less stressed and things are suddenly easier. I don’t feel the weight of fighting every battle, of managing everything. It took me 30 years, but I somehow learned to let things go.

Over the past month or so, my therapists and I have been discussing discharge (I do individual counseling and my husband and I do couples counseling). We all agreed that we were coming to the end of the line and that we would do a few more sessions, just to make sure all our ducks were in a row.

And the last appointments were tonight. I started individual counseling in October of 2012, I started couples counseling in January of 2013 and now I’m finished.

(Just to be clear, my marriage has never been in danger, it just wasn’t always good. The arguments lasted hours and never got resolved, the communication sucked. And now, they don’t and it doesn’t.)

Things are just…good. I know that I still have my share of issues and my marriage is imperfect, but this is okay. I can manage my issues, my anxiety. My husband and I can communicate and work through the things we face in the future. We are good. I am good. I am ready to be finished and I am really happy to be where I am now. I don’t live under the delusion that I won’t need a mental health tune up at any point in the future, or that my marriage will ever be perfect. But I have worked hard, we have worked hard, and now we are going to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

And you know what? happiness was well worth the work.

365

A year ago today was the absolute worst day of my life.

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It started out well. My husband had to go to an early conference session, but Eli and I had a nice breakfast in our hotel, we were packing so we could go home, but first we were going to swing by an amusement park nearby since we had only gotten to spend a half day there earlier in the week (and our tickets were still valid) and we just knew Eli would love it. And then it happened. In the blink of an eye, my 10 month old fell head first off the bed and hit the very hard flooring of our hotel room. He screamed a scream I can never unhear. I laid him on the bed and when I picked him up, his head lagged behind and bobbed. He wouldn’t open his eyes. He wasn’t okay.

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The next four days included 3 ER visits, 2 admission processes, and 3 nights in the hospital. It included 2 CT scans that showed blood on Eli’s brain. It included frank conversations with neurosurgeons who told us that there was no way to know if our child was going to be okay or if he’d have long term issues. It included IVs, vomit, and more fear than I can ever describe.

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And now it’s been a year.

My son is now a hilarious, busy, incredibly profoundly normal toddler. If you looked at him for any duration of time, you’d never know that he had a brain injury last year. And I could not be more thankful for that.

If you looked at me for any measure of time, you might not know how profoundly damaged I was either. A year and a day ago, I had a level of parenting innocence I cannot ever get back. I obviously knew that there were risks, but I had never faced the reality of those risks. I had severe anxiety about something happening to my child but even with that fear, I had never truly faced the consequences of something happening. My introduction to the reality that my child was fragile wasn’t a skinned knee or a busted lip. It was a bleeding brain. And it devastated me on every level.

I had months where I didn’t sleep because all night long I tried to rescue my child from situations that would harm him. I had months where I didn’t smile, where I functioned at the bare minimum, working just as much as I had to, parenting just as much as I had to. I had months where I never thought things would ever be good again, even though I could see this incredible person in front of me who despite what happened was fine. I was not fine.

A full year has passed and much has changed. I have a level of awareness that in some ways I’m grateful for. I have a level of appreciation for modern medicine that I cannot possibly convey in words. And more than anything else, I am happy again. My marriage is better than it has ever been. I am more appreciative of the things I have in my life because I am truly, immeasurably fortunate.

I will not pretend that Eli’s injury a year ago is something I am thankful for, because I am not and if I could go back and undo it, I would, a million times over. But I have worked hard to make it mean something for my life, for my child’s life, for our family. I have worked hard to use it as a way to be a better parent, not in the helicopter overprotective sense, but in the awareness of reality sense, in the being grateful for my family sense. I have worked hard to be a better parent, a better wife and a better person this year.

And a year later, I am happy. I am truly, genuinely happy. A year ago I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to feel that way again. 6 months ago, I doubted that I’d ever feel this way again. It has taken hours of therapy, a medication I never wanted to take and time. And here we are.

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I am not the mother I was a year ago, and I will never be her again. But I’ve stopped mourning that reality, because I realized that now, a year later, I’m better than I was last March. I’m now the parent I wanted to be, not the one who was so held back by the fear of something happening that I couldn’t give my child space to explore. I’m not the parent who was so afraid of tragedy that I couldn’t fully attach to my son and be present with him each day. I am not that mother anymore. I am attached. I am present. And I am truly, in my bones, to my core, happy. And I am grateful for every single day that I get to be this way. For every single moment with my family. I know what is truly at stake in this life and while this year has been indescribably difficult, I’m so glad for all I have learned and for all that I have.

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Perceived Dangers

Last night at 2am I woke up somewhat suddenly, but for no apparent reason. I looked around to sort of settle myself and finally glanced at the baby monitor, which is when I noticed that something with Eli was off. It looked like his blanket was across his throat, but I couldn’t see either end of it, which was unusual. I thought maybe it wasn’t a blanket but a stuffed animal or his smaller lovie, but I had this nagging feeling that it needed further investigation. So I went into his room.

It turns out that it was his regular blanket (which is an Aden + Anais swaddle blanket) and it was wrapped around his neck twice. My head was positively shrieking with panic, but I managed to stay quiet, unwrap his blanket while only barely waking him up, replace his a pacifier, give him a kiss and a butt pat and leave the room.

And then I did the most incredible thing. I went back to sleep.

Look, I know that doesn’t sound incredible, but for me, it really was. After months of horribly broken sleep, and hours of laying awake panicking, this is really a huge deal. There are times I really struggle to see the progress I’ve made in the past few months, but this is one that I feel really proud of (even if a small part of me also thinks that this is entirely the fault of the medication and wants to take away all credit because that’s how I am, but whatever).

I think one of the biggest parts of that experience, for me, was feeling like I could trust my intuition. It has been really difficult to parent my child, never knowing if listening to my gut was the right thing. My gut has a tendency to overreact and I never really know if a perceived danger is serious or if I’m catastrophizing something insignificant. And last night, I was able to identify that Eli needed me to do something, do it, and not flip out in the process.

This is what I always thought parenting would be. I thought I would be supermom- not needing help, not needing reassurance, but I have been the opposite. I have felt like I can’t trust myself for months now, it’s an issue that hasn’t let up and is always intensified when my husband is out of town. I never feel like I can make a parenting decision without approval, not because my husband requires me to do so, but because I don’t trust myself to make the right decision. Last night, without hesitation, I made the right decision.

And while I have spent a fair portion of today worried about how to deal with this situation since Eli is very devoted to sleeping with a blanket (almost never under it), I was able to work through it and come up with a solution that is working for him and for me. Am I likely to check the monitor more frequently tonight? Yes. Am I still doing much better than I would’ve been 2 months ago? Absolutely.

There is still work to be done, but there’s no denying that progress has been made and that things are moving very much in the right direction. And it feels really, really good.

Finding Okay

I’ve been in therapy for a year now, which is just a really long time. And it’s interesting, because I’ve unquestionably made progress, but I honestly don’t know if I’m really better off than I was this time last year. This is not the fault of therapy, nor my therapist (especially the one I have now), who I really think is great, it’s an issue with my brain and life and this two steps forward and 6 months back thing that’s happening.

I had a meeting with my psychiatrist yesterday, where he determined that even though the medication is making me more anxious, I needed to up my dose until I wasn’t anxious or until the side effects became too toxic, then lower it down to the last tolerated dosage and then stay on it for a year. Which, what? And hey, I have some feelings about this and not one of them is happy. He told me that my dose now insufficient.

Which is interesting because on the dose I’m on right now, I’ve had more moments of happiness than I have in ages. And I really don’t understand why we can’t give it more time since the max effect isn’t seen for another month, but when I asked I was told that it’s because my doctor doesn’t do “half-assed medicine.” I just feel like I got duped. Like I agreed to medication and now I have to take high doses of all of it. I’m not happy.

On Tuesdays I do double therapy, once by myself in the afternoon and once with my husband and Eli in the evening. It’s a long day of feelings, but it’s helping me and it’s helping my marriage. I actually often look forward to Tuesdays because I know that what we’re doing is making me better, but they are long, difficult days. And today was no exception.

I spoke with my therapist about the medication, about feeling happy and then crappy last week and she did her due diligence in reminding me that I’ve worked hard and come a long way. She’s right and I know that, but I also know that 2 weeks ago, I wouldn’t have felt as happy as I did last week, and that’s not because I’m working hard, it’s because my brain chemicals are changing and my serotonin levels are better now. I know that, and it’s partially great and partially blows. I want to have it be the direct result of hard work, but we both know that isn’t the case.

Halfway through our couples counseling session tonight, Eli threw up all over himself (we overfed him? I think?), which was just really a hot mess of awful, and it brought to light some serious OCD issues I’ve had brewing for quite some time. Issues I’m well aware of, and issues that are definitely having a negative impact on several areas of my life, my husband’s life and my child’s life. And I just sort of feel like perhaps I have a psych bingo now? Depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD. I mean, I am not bipolar or schizophrenic, but we’ve pretty much hit all the other ones, and surely there’s a free space in there somewhere. How many more things can we find that are wrong with me.

I just feel like I’m really kind of broken, like there’s little hope that I will ever be truly normal, even with medication and years of therapy. I feel like I’m facing obstacles that are bigger than me and even 2 hours of therapy a week and 10 or 20 or 30 milligrams of this medication aren’t going to fix that.

A year of therapy has passed and yes, I’ve made progress. I am stronger than I was a year ago. I’m more in touch with my feelings, my marriage is stronger and my self-awareness is heightened. But I’m also not okay yet. And I’m left wondering how many more years it’ll take to be okay again.

Trading Crazy

I’ve been on the (first) medication given to me by the psychiatrist for a full week now. I’ve made it 5 days on the maintenance dose which means, based on some pharmacology that I barely understood when I was studying it, my body now has a steady state of that dose and basically, from here the side effects should go down, not up, and we’ll be able to see what this med can do. Basically, we’ve reached the watch and wait phase. No more titrating.

It has been a rough start. One of the side effects I was warned about before starting was that my anxiety might get worse and while it took me a few days to see any changes, that was one that was very evident. I normally have intermittent flashes of terrible scenarios in my head each day (I say that like it’s normal, I know it’s not), but for the past week, these have turned into full blown panic attacks, complete with a racing heart, sweating, nausea and a profound desire to run away from whatever I’m doing to somewhere unrestrictive where I can freak out. It’s been really, really difficult. It feels like I’m trading one crazy for another.

There are other side effects that aren’t worth mentioning, but today, for the first time, I realized that it’s starting to work.

As I was leaving work today, I realized that I was happy. I had heard some good news, had a really great final patient of the day and I just felt good. And as I tried to figure out what I was excited about or why I felt so, so good, I realized that this is just what happy feels like. It’s been so long since I felt this way that I have forgotten what it really felt like.

I have forgotten how to be happy.

And of course, that made me kind of sad. It’s nice to feel this way, but it’s so frustrating that I can’t do it on my own. I want to be happy, I really, truly do. But I want to be happy on my own. And feeling that way today was just another reminder that I can’t do that. That I need a mix of pharmaceuticals to make me feel this way when everyone else can do it on their own.

I am, as seems to be the usual these days, feeling conflicted. I just really miss things being easy. I miss life being uncomplicated and straightforward. I miss feeling what I feel instead of trying to figure out what I should feel and how to change what I do feel and feel something different. Things are difficult, but in different ways than I imagined.

I’m ready for easy. I miss easy.

All the King's Horses

I had a pretty different post planned for tonight because I was tired of hearing about my own issues and because I actually got a good night of sleep last night for the first time in ages (I haven’t started the meds yet, so it’s not that). Basically, I was having a pretty great day.

After work, Eli and I headed to my former grad school for a lab for the first year students. They were analyzing walking in the very young and old and wanted Eli to come walk for them. So we did. And he was having SUCH a good time from the very first moments. It turns out my little boy really enjoys being the center of attention. Our room had somewhere between 30 and 45 students in it, in addition to 3 other children and a few parents and faculty. And he was just having the best time in there. He was walking around, taking toys from other kids, periodically trying to use people’s iPads and gleefully running around trying to escape from me or anyone else who was trying to encourage him to share.

And then, about 10 minutes into the lab, he walked up to a soccer ball that was every so slightly flat, went to kick it, like he does all the time at home, but instead accidentally stepped on the top of it and before I could even blink, he did a huge banana peel style slip and slammed the back of his head on the floor without any other body part breaking the fall.

The collective gasp from the room was just about enough to suck all the oxygen out of the universe. The sound of his head hitting the ground was one of those sounds that just makes you nauseous. It was awful.

Eli cried. He cried and cried and cried. For a solid 5 minutes he cried no matter how much I soothed him. And while I was present there in that moment, comforting my child, I was also frozen with fear. I have done this before. I’ve comforted an inconsolable child with a head injury and it all but ruined me. I was so scared.

After a few more minutes, Eli perked up and went back to playing (but avoided that ball), but I feel like my heart hasn’t resumed beating in the 7 hours since it happened. I had a therapy session planned for tonight already and before we even got in the room my therapist knew I wasn’t okay because the panic was written across my face. At one point in the session she made me stop what I was doing and breathe because I was making her anxious, which I feel is sort of impressive, really.

I was terrified that when I got home, Eli was going to be showing signs of another bleed. That he would be vomiting, or lethargic or that we’d just know in the way we had a gut feeling when it happened before. I was and continue to be so scared that that fall, which was really very hard, and like his previous injury, left absolutely no mark on his head, is very serious and rumbling under the surface.

It went against every fiber of my being to put him to bed in his room tonight. He won’t sleep in our bed and I know that, and I won’t sleep if I did that either, but I am so scared that if he has an injury, it’ll rear its head in the night. I know the odds of this are incredibly small, but the odds of it happening the first time were pretty miniscule. I can’t get past the fear of something happening and all I can do is hope that in the morning, we’ll be past the scary window. In the meantime, my heart feels like it’s being stomped on repeatedly.

I’m really very tired and frustrated. I just wish that either this wouldn’t keep happening, or that I could respond to it normally. I don’t want to feel this kind of panic every time Eli bumps his head, nor this level of fear knowing it could happen again and again. I don’t want to have to put on a brave face when I am destroyed inside.

I just want things to be easy. I really miss easy.

Bettering

I met with the psychiatrist today, as I had previously agreed to. I don’t have a whole lot to say about the situation- it went exactly as I expected. It started with her asking why I was there and me giving my mental health and medical history. Then we discussed Eli’s accident. Then she asked several other questions about the accident and my reaction and the way things have been lately. And then she diagnosed me with PTSD with some depression and anxiety. And then started discussing medications.

It’s not that I was under any delusion that I was going to leave the office without a prescription in hand, but I guess somewhere along the line I thought we could discuss whether medication was truly necessary and I suppose the answer to that was somewhat embedded in everyone’s very serious attitude about my treatment. My doctor is a resident so I also got to meet with her attending, who I liked very much and who, half way through, asked me if I wanted to be there. And before I could even stop it, the word no blurted right out of my mouth.

But, as I went onto explain, I understand why I needed to be there. I see that my treatment was not working at its current levels, I see that I need more help and I know that I need to do this for my son.

And so I walked out with a prescription and a plan. I’m starting one medication this week (the name of which I will not be disclosing) in addition to moving one of my current meds from as needed to nightly. Next week I’ll go back and we’ll see how things are going. If the new med is working, we’ll titrate it up and add another one that’s been tested for PTSD related nightmares, but which carries a bit of a medical risk for me and will require more monitoring. If the first med doesn’t work, we’ll try a different one and so on until we find the right one. If the first med and the nightmare med both work, we’ll continue to increase the doses of both until we reach the desired level and then potentially exchange one I’m already on for a different med with a longer half-life. The answer to how long I’ll be on these medications was a hearty “it depends.”

So basically I’m going to go from one as needed medication to 2 daily and a different as needed med with no real end in sight.

I have a lot of mixed emotions about this. It’s nice to know that this is a real diagnosed condition and that there are medications that can be used to treat it. It’s nice to know that I have a bunch of medical professionals on board who are interested in helping me get better. These are good things. Taking 3 different medications for an unknown duration is difficult. Knowing that this is a long process is difficult. Fearing that it isn’t going to get better is the worst.

I’m working hard to see accepting medication as a strength not as a weakness, but it really is a process right now. It’s hard to not see this as a big loss of control, as a big fault, or at least a bigger fault since it’s not like I’m living under the impression that everything else is fine. I know that in time this will get easier, but for the current period, it’s difficult.

But it’s not something that cannot be overcome. And if anything, taking this step makes me want to fight harder to get there, to get past this, and to get the life that I want and the life my family deserves. So even if my motivation isn’t entirely pure (though it mostly is), I think the end result, getting better, is what matters the most.