7 Minutes

We were given this for a journaling prompt in my writing & creativity class, Story 201 tonight. One quote, 7 minutes. This is what came out. 

“Remember the deep root of your being.” (The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom, Christine Valters Painter) 

Go back and unearth what was buried. 

Dig. 

Dig. 

Shove heaps of earth off to each side.

Dig. 

Dig. 

Until it’s in your view.

Excavate it. 

Open it. 

Breathe it in. 

See it for yourself again with fresh eyes. 

Behold. 

Recognize it as who you are. 

Who you’ve always been underneath it all. 

Go back.

Unearth what was buried. 

Unearth yourself. 

 

Climbing Out of The Darkness

A few months ago, I wrote a letter to Miriam Carey, the mother who lost her life after a chase with police at our nation’s Capitol.  After her death it was revealed that she suffered from some form of mental illness, possibly triggered by postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis. In that letter I made her and her daughter a promise: that I would do better, do everything in my power to make it so that mothers like her, like myself, don’t suffer in silence, nor fall through the cracks of the healthcare system in our country. I promised her that I would continue to be a voice crying out for those in our communities to take our mental health seriously and to seek treatment-even if it felt like I was speaking in a silo, into the wind, and no one was listening. I promised I’d do better so her daughter wouldn’t be ashamed to seek mental health help if she ever needs it as she grows older.

I’ve been working very hard since then to live up to that promise, even if it just involves me being completely honest here about where I’m at mentally. I haven’t erased my YouTube videos, even though I haven’t updated it in months and regret that I haven’t seen that project through like I wanted. I do, however have other projects in the works that hopefully I will see through and that will help me carry out my promise to her in tangible, impactful ways.

I WILL be a change agent.

**

When I was thinking of writing this post-what I wanted to say about why I volunteer my time and resources to Postpartum Progress, and why I’m asking for your support, I thought of Miriam, my promise, and then I thought of myself.

I thought back to January 2011. I don’t remember the exact date but I remember it was nighttime, and I was sitting in the dark, crying as I sat in front of my laptop typing words into Google search. I had spent the previous hour sitting on my bathroom floor, envisioning my family coming in and finding me bleeding to death in the bathtub. I’d been having suicidal and intrusive thoughts for over a week, and was exhausted from the mental strain and impact of severe shifts and cycles in mood. I remember thinking about the people in my life who had told me that either nothing was wrong with me or that I was suffering because I wasn’t “living right.” No one could explain why I was feeling insanity dance within me, and no one understood because I could barely articulate what it was that was happening to me.

I remember feeling the exhaustion settling in deep within my bones, overtaking any resolve that remained. So there I was, Googling what I thought were my symptoms. The first link in the search results was Postpartum Progress. I spent the next 3 hours reading everything there: posts, comments, the “Plain Mama English” guides that outlined the symptoms of perinatal mood disorders. I remember crying as I read everything, realizing that I finally had an explanation for what I had been enduring since even before I gave birth to Alex. The rage…the sadness…the anxiety…the compulsions…the intrusive thoughts…the guilt…there it all was, laid out for me in black and white on the screen.

I emailed Katherine Stone, the founder. She emailed me back, encouraging me to seek help and telling me that no, I wasn’t crazy, and yes, I would get better, and there as hope for me. She directed me to the Postpartum Stress Center in PA where I eventually started treatment.

Hope and a lifeline. She and Postpartum Progress had given me both.

***

Postpartum depression and related illnesses like postpartum anxiety, ocd, and psychosis, are the most common complications of childbirth, impacting 1 in 7 women, and at a higher rate of 1 in 4 women in minority, lower-income, & impoverished communities every year. Suicide is among the leading causes of death among new mothers every year. (As I mentioned above, it nearly took MY life) With these kinds of grim stats in mind, Postpartum Progress has grown from just a blog, to a non-profit laser focused on improving the maternal mental health of women worldwide through a variety of programs.

For example, in the next 24 months, Postpartum Progress will be updating and expanding the blog including a Spanish language version, creating a video PSA, and starting the development of a mobile app that supports moms through PPD and related illnesses.

These are the kinds of initiatives that Climb Out of the Darkness is designed to help fund. Climb Out of the Darkness is THE first event of its kind: one designed to spread awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and help fund Postpartum Progress’ efforts to reach every mother, in every community, on every socioeconomic level.

I’m joining mothers all over the world-there are climbs in London, New Zealand, Canada, and South America-to raise money  over the next 48 days that will help Postpartum Progress help every mother and their families have the strong start they deserve.

I did it last year to honor my experience and ascent out of the darkness I found myself in that night in 2011. This year, I’m leading a team of survivors here in Austin, and I’m doing it for Miriam. I’m doing it for the other women who have lost their lives in the last 12 months to suicide. I’m doing it for the mothers in communities that lack access to adequate mental health resources, for the mothers who have no insurance, who are at risk and don’t know there’s hope and help. For the mothers who are ignorant of the facts and range of their symptoms because their OB doesn’t have adequate information in their brochures on PPD. For the mothers who just think that PPD is nothing more than being sad and doesn’t understand why she has scary thoughts or full-blown rage she’s never in her life experienced up until this time in her life.

Some quick facts on PPD and related illnesses:

  • PPD and related illnesses happen to ONE MILLION WOMEN in the US alone each year.
  • Only 15% of moms with PPD and related illnesses ever get professional help. That means there are more than a half a million mothers (in the US alone) each year who have not gotten any help.

  • The National Research Council reports that untreated PPD is associated with impaired mother-infant bonding and long-term negative effects on the child’s emotional behavior and cognitive skills, lasting into adolescence and adulthood. The Urban Institute says the biggest tragedy of this illness is that it is treatable and thus we could be preventing the damage it has on so many mothers and children.

  • The annual cost of lost income and productivity in the US of not treating mothers with depression is $4-5 billion.

Let’s not lose any more mothers to these very treatable illnesses. Let’s eradicate the shame associated with these illnesses that keep so many from seeking treatment. Would you consider a $10 or $20 donation this week? Team Austin’s goal is to first raise $500, and then stretch to $1k. We’re over 60% of the way to $500. Help us get there?

Thank you SO much for your support. Seriously. You’re helping us save lives. You’re helping us save the other Miriams & A’Driane’s out in this world.

To join a climb in your area, click this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/COTD2014

To donate to our team here in Austin, click this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/addyeB-COTD2014/fundraiser/addyeB

To read my latest post over at Postpartum Progress, go here: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/postpartum-anxiety-comes-back

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. Please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

Moving Toward the Sun

I’ve been in a depressive episode for nearly 8 weeks. The decline has been gradual. There have been good days scattered throughout, but I’ve been edgy, tense, fatigued….my mind has been too loud some days, eerily silent during others. I’ve been crying off and on in my bathroom to hide my breaking from my kids…in my car as I drive from one errand to the next. I’ve had to shift to auto-pilot to just get through hard moments, root myself in detachment to keep from getting swallowed up by the stress. I’ve spent the last two weeks cycling rapidly between hypomania (marked mostly by agitation and a mind packed with too many thoughts), and a dragging depression that swallows me up and sends me into its belly for a few moments then spits me back out into the sun and air where I can breathe again. And then everything’s still and quiet…I feel “normal” and then the cycle repeats itself hourly, daily, weekly….and so it’s been for nearly 2 months now. Rinse. Settle. Repeat.

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I’m still in that critical postpartum window. I just weaned nearly a month ago. My body and hormones are in flux and adjusting as a result. I hate it.

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Stress is both motivating and crippling for me. I can handle 10 things going on all at once with ease. It’s once the 11th shows up demanding my attention that my mind starts to split and scatter off into darker corners. I think about my life these days and chide myself with all kinds of “should” statements for feeling and being overwhelmed by all I manage on a day-to-day basis: baby is teething & raging,  middle child with special needs, oldest was just diagnosed with ADHD and his enthusiasm for school has waned significantly, trying to overhaul our home and parenting lifestyles to accommodate and support their needs (like increasing structure and making our home more sensory friendly), supporting my husband while he deals with stress at work. New therapy schedules, trips to the pediatrician, and comprehensive psychometric testing have dominated our lives over the past month. Up ahead there is more testing to be done, and meetings with the school district to discuss accommodations for Brennan and evaluations and placement for Alex who is gearing up for preK this fall…

It’s not all stressful. I’m involved in birthing great projects. I’m taking my mom’s advice on avoiding burnout by feeding my spirit so I don’t fall prey to losing myself, you know? I’ve joined writing & art communities online,  I’m painting at 11pm, I’ve signed up for retreats and writing eCourses, done a couple of write-ins with groups, and I’ve done a juice cleanse to try to reset my body and mind. I’m re-reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown as well as books on painting, sensory processing disorder, creativity, and feminism. I’m trying to find my way here still, in this space as far as my writing is concerned. I’m trying to learn how to embody all the parts of myself that have come alive over the past few years-artist, writer, advocate-in the midst of the daily demands on my person and time as a mother and wife. I’m trying to bloom where I’m planted. At 31, it’s still a stumbling process though.

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I’m searching for my flow amidst the rhythms, rocking and swaying as the ebb and flow of my life’s current carries me throughout my days. But the stress of everything gets triggering and I find myself cycling with the ebb and flow as a result sometimes. That’s when my knees buckle and my head spins. My chest constricts and my brain starts to feel like it’s suffocating. My grip gets weak. Fatigue sets in and my steps forward get heavy. Taking care of myself gets harder, and usually becomes the last checked off item on my must do list-if it’s checked off at all. I end each day feeling as though I have no safe place to come up for air and just process my thoughts, fears, and anxiety…I end most days feeling unsettled and bottled up, stuffed to capacity and as I close my eyes to sleep I’ve found myself starting to pray like Jabez, asking God or whoever is listening for an increase in capacity…in ability…in might…

******

My hair is pink again with some blue added for extra fun. My hair and color are always my first lines of defense against the disorder of my brain chemistry and mood.

IMG_5687

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I visited my psychiatrist last week at the VA. This is another area that I can’t seem to find solid footing. We’ve lived here for nearly two years and I’m on my 3rd psychiatrist. Obtaining talk therapy has been a fail. The appointment scheduling system here is confusing and useless to me because I have very little say in what days and times fit into my schedule that’s already inundated with the kid’s school and therapies. I’ve had to fight to get treated, and I’m constantly having to say “but if you read this and go here, research and experts agree that….”. I feel lost in a system that I’m constantly told is for me to use and that I should trust. But the bureaucracy I face with nearly every interaction chips away at that trust. I have no confidence in my mental health care these days, in the professionals assigned to my care. And yet, at my appointment last week, I sat in front of her desk and allowed myself to become undone. Completely and unapologetically. I unloaded nearly 24 months of thoughts and stress right there in her office in 20 minutes while my smiling baby squirmed and cooed in my arms. She listened to every word. Asked some questions that dug a little deeper. Apologized for all the trouble with the system I’ve had and for not really hearing me 6 weeks ago when I told her my anxiety was becoming a problem. She admitted that lack of knowledge about medications while breastfeeding restricted her ability to really give me what I was needing. We decided now that I’m no longer pregnant and breastfeeding we could get more aggressive with my meds again-go back to finding a more therapeutic dose. So over the next two months I’ll be doing that-going up on lamictal and prozac and trying out an additional med for anxiety. I started the increase yesterday. I’m hoping by the end of the week my brain and mood will start to grab ahold and adjust accordingly.

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I’ve struggled today to pick everything back up and keep walking. To push past and through. To square my shoulders and lift my chin. To turn a deaf ear to the tape playing in my head that has all kinds of lies and frenzied talk on a loop.

But I’m doing it-picking up and pushing. I’m moving forward. Slowly. The sun is shining outside despite the cold front that’s moved through. I’m working my way out into the sun, breathing in deep as I go.

Real Talk: I’m F—ing Sick of Suicide and Mental Illness Killing Our People

I just need to get this out because it’s burning hot in my bones like fire, my soul wants to just scream and wail but it can’t because doing so will terrify my children.

I’ve been thinking all day about how we’ve lost another person, another woman of color to suicide and mental illness. The more I’ve thought about how we lost Karyn Washington to suicide, the angrier I get. I’m talking SEETHING. I’m talking a white-hot, blinding rage that just wants to go tearing through things as it travails in mourning. I’m talking a rage that causes my teeth to ache from a clenched jaw and gnashing.

I. am. ANGRY.

I. am. MOURNING.

 

I. am. HEARTBROKEN.

I didn’t know her, but I didn’t have to. She was my sister, a fellow woman of color, a writer, a voice, a human being dedicated to uplifting her people. And she is gone. Suicide came and took her from us and I’m here grieving like she was my own daughter gone from me.

I’m fed up with the stigma that permeates minority communities and takes the lives of our people-as if we already don’t have enough fucking things that are killing and destroying us. I’m enraged at the lack of resources available to us. Our people are living and suffering from all types of ‘hood trauma all across this country, and have been for decades, centuries, even and our mental health isn’t taken seriously and addressed.

Our people are left for dead and to waste away in their minds.

Our churches-the cornerstones in our communities don’t adequately address mental illness-we keep perpetuating this “I’m too blessed to be stressed” bootstrappin bullshit that’s basically the equivalent to handing us a razor to slice our wrists open with.

Black men are conditioned to believe they have to be hard, and in reality, it’s true-they MUST be and live hard because society views them as inhuman and unworthy of even being able to walk to the corner store or listen to music in their cars in peace.

Black women are conditioned to bear a resilient silence-our mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, and grandmothers have to be so strong for everyone else without a not so much of an utterance as to how such a burden is eroding at our thought life and well-being.

I’m disgusted that the mental health advocate community has a major diversity problem. I’m tired of POC not being seen and heard on mental health platforms like our white counterparts. I’m tired of seeing awareness campaigns full of nothing but white faces, and quality treatment facilities and practices in the white neighborhoods, with even sliding scale fees only white people can afford.

I’m tired of hearing our people say that therapy and medication “are for white people.” I’m tired of our mamas not knowing what perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are and how they can manifest over the first year of their baby’s life-ON TOP of all the other shit they’re dealing with that can contribute to depression, PTSD, and anxiety. I’m tired of our mamas not knowing the risk factors for developing such disorders during and following pregnancy-especially when previous trauma and violence are the top risk factors.

My heart bleeds for the Karyns. The Miriams. The Ebony Wilkersons. The Don Cornelius’. The Lee Thompson Youngs. My heart rages for them, and I wonder when their mental health will become a priority. When will the psychiatrist or licensed social worker graduating from school decide to go set up shop where our people live and listen to their stories. Educate us. Chip away at the stigma that has become a death sentence?

Who will help us? People of color, when will we speak up about our own struggles with mental illness and light the way for our own? Can it be today?

Please tell me we can start today. I can’t bear the pain of losing any more of you to this selfish son of bitch.

If you are struggling today and having thoughts of suicide, please DO NOT hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately. Call 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433) or 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) . 

Sprung

I’m sitting outside as I’m typing this. The air has begun to cool, and a soft breeze is sweeping past me as I sit on our front step. The sky is clear, the sun is lazily retreating to its home, the trees are freshly green, and I’m smiling as I remember the bluebonnets we passed earlier while driving to the mall.

Spring is here. In Austin such gorgeous weather and comfortable temps only last a few weeks before Summer comes in all hot and sweating from head to toe, heat emanating from its core. It’ll be 110 degrees out soon, but today there was a slow, delicious ride up to 81, and the sun-kissed my skin instead of scorching it. Glory.

The baby is inside sleeping soundly after a rough day of teething, cocooned cozily in his favorite blanket. I can hear the older two coming undone as they laugh to Tom & Jerry’s classic antics. I paused from cleaning and prepping for the week ahead to just come out here and sit with my thoughts for a moment…and breathe…and soak in the emerging energy of the new season springing forth.

Mentally, I can feel the depression that’s been slowly creeping up on me retreating a bit, giving me room to breathe in a bit deeper. This weekend had its stressful and triggering moments with the baby (his crying becomes intense and piercing quickly), but overall our weekend was peaceful.

Brennan had his second soccer game and I watched in awe from the sidelines as he came to life in ways I’ve only seen when he’s singing, dancing, or his mind is a flight with creativity. I caught myself nodding in recognition as I watched him bound up and down the field-he feels free when he runs, just like I do. I can see it in the way his body stretches out and how effortlessly he embodies motion in each stride. He’s clumsy when it comes to trying to get his hands and arms to do something like catch a ball, but he’s fluid with his legs and feet-just like me. It caught me by surprise when he asked to sign up for soccer a couple of months back, but watching him on the field yesterday, I saw why he did-he’s a natural and he loves the exertion and excitement.

Alex was all about his trains this weekend. His favorite the past two days has been Henry and Henry has been pulling all the cargo and tinders behind him at home, at the mall, in the van, at the soccer field. Alex was also all about being barefoot. He’s been on a sock strike and extended it this weekend to footwear while playing out front and riding around in the car. Come to think of it, he even went without pants at one point yesterday, choosing to continue playing on the front step in nothing but his favorite Batman tee and underwear. Watching him run chase his trains and toy motorcycles in minimal clothing as they raced down the sidewalk in front of our apartment gave me the giggles. I remember feeling peace envelop my heart as I recognized how comfortable he felt in his environment, and considering how defensive and overwhelmed the world around him can cause him to be at times, I relished seeing his body at ease and freely allowing him to be, well, Alex the Great.

Bertski is home on vacation from work for the next week, which I’m relieved about. He’s been moving slowly throughout his days, soaking in his free time. He signed up for the Statesman Cap 10k next week, which will make it his second year in a row running it. I’m excited for him. Running is his life next to coding and robotics. He NEEDS to run like I need to paint and write and have a good living room dance party. He woke up today in the mood to listen to hip-hop-both old and new. The first part of our morning was spent with Tupac, Public Enemy, J. Cole,  & Nas-it was glorious. I’m so relieved I married a fellow music junkie.

I’m shipping paint this coming week. I took down the three pieces going to new homes, and felt my heart sob a bit as I started prepping them. Saying goodbye to my work is always bittersweet. I’m humbled and honored others want it to grace their spaces, but also torn over having to let them go and never see them on my walls again. I’m going to miss stopping during my day and looking at them, reflecting on the thoughts and emotions each one invokes. It’s ok. I will make more. Letting go of them frees up space in and around me to make more. Besides, hoarding it all for myself in our tiny space is silly.

I’ve weaned the baby. He’s now on a dairy and soy free formula and is enjoying his slow foray into solids, eagerly gobbling up rice cereal. Despite the fussiness in the afternoons, he’s been incredibly happy; discovering his feet, babbling to his brothers as he watches them run and play, and laughing. His laugh releases something in me every time I hear it, and before I realize it, I’m laughing along with him and nibbling on his cheeks as he smiles. Even with the hard moments, this boy has been bliss. We are all madly in love with him, it’s disgusting to see us fall all over ourselves fawning over him, eating him up. He is delicious. Goodness.

Inhale.

Exhale.

This breeze is everything. There’s an uplifting energy to it, and as I skim back over what I’ve written as I’ve sat in its midst, I see I’ve written exactly what that energy feels like several times: FREE.

This weekend has been freeing for my little family in a variety of ways. Invigoratingly so.

Spring has sprung and so have we.

Inhale.

Exhale.

New season. New week.

Time to go back in.

Reset

The scale groaned under my weight as I stood on it a few moments ago. The blue light highlighted the digital readout & what I had a feeling I’d see: 200.8lbs.

I weigh 200.8lbs. That’s 17lbs more than what I weighed when I gave birth, and it’s the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life.

I guess I should admit here that I’m
incredibly envious of women who lose weight from breastfeeding. I don’t. I’ve breastfed three children for 4 months each and have never dropped a pound during. Instead my appetite has always increased far more than it ever did during pregnancy and so does my weight. Every. Time.

I think weighing so much wouldn’t be hitting my psyche and body image so hard if the rest of my body wasn’t so much of a wreck from this pregnancy.

My pelvis is still broken. My pubis symphysis is still the size of the Grand Canyon. About a month after delivering I started experiencing moderate symptoms of prolapse-my OB says I’m at a grade 2 and if no improvement has been made between 4-6 months postpartum, he’ll recommend surgery & other measures to try and alleviate my symptoms. It’s a complete disaster down there, unlike anything I experienced my previous two postpartum periods. These are the kinds of things I wish they talked about in child birthing classes & books when they espouse the benefits of vaginal delivery. Sure, vaginal delivery is considered the ideal compared to having a C-Section, but it does come with at a price-one far greater and more demoralizing than tearing & swelling. I’m pretty angry at the fact that pelvic organ/vaginal/uterine prolapse isn’t talked about, but that’s a soapbox I’ll get on another night…

ANYWAY…

At first, I attempted to get through running and some yoga despite my pelvic issues. But once the prolapse started, running became a no go and yoga went from bearable to painful during most positions and stretches. Walking, lifting and carrying anything over 5lbs makes my back scream, thighs ache, and lower abdominal area curse me out. I’m hoping when I see my OB this week he can give me some guidance on what kind of low impact exercise I can do that won’t cause further damage or undo any correcting that might be done at some point.

To help the prolapse one thing I must do is shed some of this weight. To shed the weight I need to move more, somehow, and I have to stop stress eating. My OB also suggested that weaning (when I was ready) would probably help. Well, as of today the baby is now weaned-for a few reasons, but this is definitely one of them.

200.8lbs. Grade 2 prolapse with painful symptoms daily. Fatigue. Stress. Pelvis problems. Have I mentioned my bald spots? Postpartum hair loss is quite sexy.

I thank God and Nature for endowing my body with the ability to bear the strain of nurturing and birthing life, but I’m also tired of feeling and being so wrecked by it.

It’s time for a reset.