From the Heart

valentine-1Our little family has been through a few major holidays now, but for some reason Valentine’s Day struck me differently. We’re a family. A family of three. And I am the Mom! I’m the front line; it’s up to me to make these moments Pinterest worthy. So, what did I do? I did what any new Mom would do. I panicked and ran out to Target, with plenty of good company as it turned out. As I wandered around trying to conjure up some lovey ideas, I found myself feeling lost and unwittingly cringing at the card aisle. To say it was bustling would be an understatement. People with armloads of candy, toys, stuffed animals, and heart-adorned attire were hovering, trying to find something with just the right words. Being judgy had no place on my to-do list, so I quickly asked myself why I felt critical. What’s so wrong with embracing Valentine’s Day and treating your loved ones to some extra delights? Nothing. But I realized, for me, honoring and celebrating the love in our family meant creating a few cozy, heartfelt traditions that our daughter will always remember.

After reading an inspiring article from Aha! Parenting, our first family Valentine’s Day took shape. It began with homemade Valentines for each of us—construction paper, scalloped scissors, fancy doilies, and our own words from the heart. We’ll save these Valentines and decorate our home with them each year.

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I got up early to make our favorite whole wheat banana pancakes for breakfast, complete with strawberries and a few festive M&Ms. The homemade Valentines welcomed us to our seats. We savored the leisurely meal, snuck a few extra M&Ms, and dined over a love-themed Spotify playlist—with everything from Lady Gaga to Huey Lewis and the News.

We spread some extra love in the world by donating non-perishables to a food pantry with the help of some other local families. In the future, my heart is set on finding a way to give back to those affected by mental illness over the holidays.

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And finally, my husband gave me the best Valentine’s day gift of all: the gift of time for a solo, midday run…such a precious commodity in this mom’s world!

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When I trotted back through our front door, I was greeted by the four pictures in our hallway and realized they tell quite the love story. In the first one, my husband is holding me at the exact spot we became a couple 19 years ago—at a high school indoor track meet. (Running truly is a common thread in the most important moments in my life!) In the second, we’re plopped down together in a snow drift outside the first home we bought. The third picture is a close up of our daughter, her eyes twinkling with joy as she plays laying down on a blanket. The final picture was taken at Christmas, with the three of us huddled in front of our glowing tree. It’s far from perfection—one sock is missing, one hand is waving in a blur, and we’re over-smiling because it was the hundredth attempt to get one decent family photo. But that’s exactly what I love about it. It’s the real us.

Love brought us together.
Love gave me a reason to fight through my illness.
Love conquered fear about having a family.
Love anchors us through trials—momentous and trivial.

My heart is full.

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My Recovery Story – Part II

Shadows from the umbrella danced on my legs while I hid in plain sight. I watched the world go on from my lounge chair by the pool, wishing I could melt into the seething white cement without anyone noticing. I didn’t check my watch; I had no interest in knowing how long I had been there. Playful shrieks floated up from the pool while a woman walked by with her newborn. The tiny baby nestled in her arms as she watched her other children launch into cannonballs from the side of the pool.

She beamed.
I silently wept.

My mind buzzed with relentless agitation and raged against the unfairness. I would never know that kind of joy. All I could do was park myself within arm’s reach of humanity, cry, and wait for Nortriptyline to quietly breathe life back into my ravaged brain. This was my second time fighting Major Depression.

Four months prior, I was stable—stable to the point that my doctor, husband, and I decided I could try weaning off my antidepressant. It had been four years since I was first diagnosed and went into remission, and I had worked hard to maintain my wellness. Quite honestly, I had worked hard to even like myself again. Now, we dreamed of moving on and starting a family. My goal was to accomplish this without Nortriptyline, and I hoped I was healed to the point I wouldn’t have to take it again.

I weaned very gradually over four months, relapsed at the end, and had to go back on my medication—for good. The suffering was real: extreme side effects from starting the medicine again, depression itself, and thinking I would never become a mom. And so, I spent many hours sitting next to that neighborhood pool with the warm sunshine wrapping itself around me. It was the closest thing I had to hope.

My recovery was won in small steps over time. I made the commitment to take Nortriptyline every day and keep regular appointments with my psychiatrist and psychologist. I let go of the idea that it wasn’t natural to take daily medication to be myself, and instead appreciated it for the freedom it gave me to be my best self.

I confronted my fears about taking an antidepressant during pregnancy, passing on depression, and being a good mother. This involved finding the best mental health care in our region and seeking a consultation from a maternal-fetal health expert. In my case, there were very few risks. It would not be considered a high-risk pregnancy. Truly believing I was fit to be a mom took longer, but therapy helped me separate the facts from my fears. On my good days, I would visualize myself in the hospital delivery room with my husband, holding our newborn for the very first time. On the challenging days, I would carefully tuck that dream in the back of my mind. I placed it out of sight so I wouldn’t dwell on what I didn’t have, knowing that I could easily summon it when I was ready to move forward again.

I realized that I would be a better mom for having battled depression. The simple acts of getting out of bed each morning and giving a good morning kiss to my newest love would not be taken for granted. I’d have more compassion for everything from stubbed toes to moody streaks and broken hearts. Depression has given me patience, which would certainly come in handy while pacifying tantrums and waiting for those tiny fingers to pick up every last Cheerio. I’ve undoubtedly gained the humility to ask for help at the first sign of needing it. I figured if I had the stamina and determination to survive being secretly unwell, I could be a tremendously capable mom when feeling well with full support.

Was I ready to become a mom despite depression? The final answer came to me on a wintry Saturday morning run in 2015. My footprints blazed the trail in the pristine snow, and ice glistened on the bare tree branches overhead. Playful shrieks floated up from a nearby hill where families had gathered to sled. Parents chatted on the hilltop while their bundled children flew down the slope with excitement.

They beamed.
So did I.

I knew that I was ready to share the beauty of life with our children—as perfectly imperfect as life may be.

~Sixteen months later~

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A Step in the Right Direction

Surely it had to be my job. It had to be the reason I had hung up my running shoes, sobbed every Sunday night, and secretly stuffed my face with chocolate chips every chance I got. Surely the job was the reason I could barely peel myself away from my comforter every morning, and generally saw life through an unfortunate haze that became more noticeable to my family and friends with each passing year. Surely it was the job…why wouldn’t it be? It demanded that I brought work home every night, worked through most of each weekend, and barely had lunch breaks. The expectations were getting lofty, the government was mandating more, and I was surrounded by people who embraced the workaholic life. I was being set up to fail. We all were. I just happened to wear it on my sleeve more. I mean, everyone was slogging through the muck of adult life the same way I was. Right? It was nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a tall glass of wine, endless episodes of Sex and the City, and hour-long venting sessions with my husband. When that stopped working, I decided I just hadn’t found my niche in my field yet. Perhaps a higher degree, a different building, a smaller group to manage, or a specialty to focus on would be the relief I so badly needed.

No. Life felt endlessly uphill.

Fortunately, my husband and a few compassionate colleagues intervened after several years when they realized what I was going through. It started with some gentle nudging: “Not that you need counseling, but here is a number in case you ever decide talking things out would be helpful.” Over time, the message became loud and clear: “You shouldn’t have to feel this way. Have you considered that medication might help you feel better, live your best life, and be the best version of yourself?”

That hill—those feelings—had a name. Depression.

I never knew that life shouldn’t feel that way. It took a little bit of time, but after finding the right combination of talk therapy and medication, it felt like the proverbial light switch had been flipped. That’s not to say that depression completely disappeared, but it eased to the point that my self-talk became overwhelmingly positive. I’ll never forget the day I stopped beating myself up so much and started marveling at my newfound life.

Sunday nights? No problem.
Option A didn’t work? Let me try options B, C, and D.
I still can’t figure this out? It’s okay. I can find some help here…
Train for a marathon? Yes, I Can!

It felt like meeting myself, my true self, for the very first time at age 26.

—–

In the end, it surely wasn’t the job. Although I was hopeful that being in remission for several years would put me at peace with my career, after 11 years and with a clear mind I have decided to resign. It simply isn’t the best fit for me, especially since my wildest dreams recently came true—becoming a mom.

I’m saying goodbye to paralyzing self-doubt, mistaking my symptoms for my true self, and a job that wasn’t a match for my strengths. At the same time, I’m grateful that my first career revealed my illness sooner rather than later. It placed me in the company of others who could see through my symptoms and help me grow into a better person and parent. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. It all led me here, to a place where life with and beyond depression isn’t just possible—it’s beautiful.

Stride On

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Did you know that in 2015, an estimated 16.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year? (National Institute of Mental Health). Knowing the signs can help you or someone you know find a way toward wellness. You can find more information, next steps, as well as a free and confidential depression screener on the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance website: http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_depression