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…

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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.

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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) . 

Mixed

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“I could be daydreaming but for a moment
And somehow they’re creeping back in
I could be sleeping awakened the torrent
Somehow I get caught in their grips again

And here I am in my shame spiral
I’m sucked in to it again
And I reach out for your benevolent opinion
You bring the light back in

Don’t leave me here with all these critical voices
Cause they do their best to bring me down
When I’m alone with all these negative voices
I will need your help to turn them down…” Spiral/Havoc and Bright Lights/Alanis Morrisette

no one loves you.
you’re so weak.
first name incapable, last name burden-that’s you.

the Voice. it mercilessly plays it’s record of shame endlessly on my inner loudspeaker, stirring up my irrational insecurities into a paranoid frenzy.

no one loves you.
you’re so weak.
first name incapable, last name burden, that’s you.

tiny arms reach up & around my neck, pulling me in close as if to say “You’re mine, I won’t let It take you.”

boyish grins light up their faces as giggles escape from their little bodies as if to say “you make us so happy.”

little legs struggle to climb into my lap, seeking solace & comfort as if to say “I need you…we’re safe here, together.”

his voice travels confidently through the phone, reminding me once again that I haven’t been abandoned to wander Illness’ deadly streets on my own. “you’re not alone, you have me, I’m here, I came back, I’m not going anywhere. I love you, we’ll get through this together,” he says.

I am loved, they love me.
I’m strongest when I’m weak because I don’t give up.
first name Addy, last name capable, that’s me.

I am loved. I am needed. I am strong. I am capable….no matter how mixed & chaotic this illness makes me.

*I’ve been in a hypomanic/mixed mood since we left. It’s been hard, but thanks to my meds & my family I’ve been managing ok….until this past week. I’ve upped my meds again & am trying to wait patiently for the Austin VA to place me in their system and assign me a psychiatrist….I was told today it’s going to take 3-4 weeks. I’ll be fighting like hell to keep the heaviness & chaos from weighing me down…and praying my mind doesn’t get any worse. In my next post I swear I’ll finally tell you about the awesomeness that has become our lives in Austin…and those fears I mentioned last post-have to share those too. In the meantime, enjoy your Labor Day weekend lovelies.*

And Then My Heart Exploded & All I Could Do was Cry

I want to say this in a way that’s eloquent & inspirational. I want to use all the right words, and craft this into a beautiful piece of writing, that carries the weight of my thoughts & emotions, and helps you fully grasp how much this moment means to me….and even though they don’t know it yet, to my boys.

But I can’t. Words are failing me. There are only tears….sobs, actually, as I lay here in the boy’s empty room, eyes closed, heart bursting with gratitude…

…and love. For the first time in my 29 years of living I feel loved and whole instead of unworthy & broken. I feel peace where there used to be agony, and joy seeping through the cracks of my deepest sorrows.

12 months ago I was obsessed with death. I spent my waking moments torn between not wanting to leave my boys without their mother & wanting to rid them of the one who felt like she had failed them.

I’m glad to say, a year later, I’m not in that place, and I’m not looking to find relief in death. I’ve found it instead in 200mg of Lamictal, .25mg of Xanax, and 2mg of Pimozide, taken at 10am, every single day…and in a diagnosis that’s forced me to make myself and my well being a priority-a first for me.

It’s been a year full of growth & healing thanks to therapy.

If you would’ve told me last year I’d be right here, laying on the floor, free from nearly all the shit I’ve been carrying since childhood, I would’ve just smiled politely, said thanks, and walked away not believing a word of it.

But here I am. Loved and whole. Healed and stronger than before. Embracing life instead of plotting to escape it…focused on LIVING it instead of just existing & surviving it.

My boys have their mother, their parents back together, and they have each other…a far cry from what they had just a year ago.

So I’m just laying here, in my almost empty apartment, marveling at how far we’ve come…excited for the new beginning that lies ahead…Tears streaming down my face as I whisper “thank you” over & over again, my heart exploding in joy each time.

I’ve come full circle.

Falling Off The Edge of My Sanity

“You’re going to die.”

Hands began to close around my neck.

My heart was racing.

Panic welled up at the back of my throat, my breaths coming faster and shorter as fear consumed me.

I could feel them. On my neck. The hands. Closing off my air supply.

“You’re going to die.”

Black. Everything was black.

Just as I opened my mouth to scream, I heard his voice next to me.

“So you want me to heat this up in the pot, here on the stove?”

I stared at him, my panic subsiding as I realized where I was.

“Um, well I burned some of the rice yesterday, so some of it is stuck to the bottom. You might just want to scoop some out-”

“And nuke it? Ok.”

I quickly turned my back to him hoping he wouldn’t be able to see the terror in my eyes.

There were no hands choking me. I was standing at the stove sautéing a pan of penne pasta, vegetables & sausage.

I was in my house. With my kids. With Bertski. Safe. The evening sun eased its way through the kitchen windows, reassuring me that nightfall was still a few hours away. It was light where I was…not dark.

As I gripped the countertop my mind swirled with too many thoughts and questions about what had just happened.

Did I black out? Was I hallucinating? Delusional? Am I insane?

I turned off the stove, mumbled something about needing to sit down and sank into the sofa, my face buried hands as tears stung my eyes and flowed down my cheeks.

“I’m not going to die,” I heard a tiny thought whisper.

Instead of hands closing themselves around my neck, I felt arms, strong and comforting pull me in close as he sat next to me, holding me, rubbing my back slowly.

No words. Just silence punctuated by stifled sobs.

I’ve been hypomanic for 8 days. It’s the longest episode of mania I’ve ever experienced. I usually cycle through it pretty quickly with it only lasting 2-3 days tops.

The first two days are full of euphoria, restless energy, impulsive compulsions, and racing thoughts. The third day tends to be where the racing thoughts become frantic, and I’m on edge; agitated and irritable. I lack patience and the slightest thing can send my anxiety through the roof.

But this time, it’s lasted longer. I’ve been turned all the way up and moving faster than normal the past 7 days. Searching for a place to live and preparing to move cross country has had my mind and body on fast forward, propelling me each day toward the edge. I’ve had fun. I’ve enjoyed my family. Was spoiled rotten for our anniversary and I soaked up every drop of love being poured over me.

But today. Today it was too much. Too fast. Too loud. I was on sensory overload. I couldn’t keep up. My mind moved at such a dizzying pace concentration and focus were foreign to me…so much so that trying to focus on things like changing diapers and being peppered with questions about the Bubble Guppies overwhelmed me.

My thoughts were erratic. Chaotic. Running together, and bleeding into one another. All over the place.

I felt like I was spinning. Out of control. Twinges of panic gripped me all day and I felt nauseated.

I reached out for support. I text Bertski. Called my psych. Took my meds. Got the boys down for a nap.

I even painted.

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But it wasn’t enough. By the time he got home, I could feel fear grabbing ahold of me but I had no idea why. There was nothing to be afraid of. I was safe. In my house. With my kids.

But as I stood at the stove finishing dinner, my mind slipped off the edge, time stopped, and I felt the flames of madness hot on my face.

On the outside I appeared to be functioning normally but on the inside I was being deconstructed, my
mind completely unhinged for a few brief terrifying seconds.

I’m so glad his voice, his touch, his strength, his presence brought me back before I fell too deep.

He took care of the boys and dinner while I laid on the couch, crying and desperately trying to grasp reality, trying to comprehend what had just taken place.

“I just want to be better,” I told him.

“You’re getting there baby. You’ve been doing really well the past month. It’s okay. I think the move triggered you. It’s okay. You have support. We’re right here.”

I’m safe. In my house. With my kids. With my future husband and best friend.

It was just a moment of madness. Terrifyingly real and something I hope to never experience ever again.

But I’m scared it will. What if it does? What will happen to me?

Things I’m Afraid to Tell You

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I was invited to write this post by a group of bloggers who are participating in a series of posts called “Things I’m Afraid to Tell You”. The TIATTY movement was inspired by a post from Jess Constable of Make … Continue reading

Dear Insomnia, I Hate You.

Dear Insomnia,

This is the 5th (6th?) night in a row we’ve hung out.

You dropped by completely unannounced expecting me to party these nights away with you…

Maybe you were really looking for Snooki and got lost on a detour that ended at my crib, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I like to swathe myself in my cozy comforter, a cumulus nimbus cloud of pillows and snore my way through dreams that star Will Ferrel and the cast of The Big Bang Theory.

And be jarred awake as my cheek starts to swim in the cold drool that’s formed the Great Lakes on my pillow.

I like to sleep. Soundly. Undisturbed.

In fact the only people allowed to disturb my slumber are my children…and that’s only because well…they’re my children. Someone has to feed them and change pee soaked diapers at o dark thirty in the morning…if I’m not awake to do that, they might wind up eating bath salts and start eating people while they throw feces all over my walls. We just cant have that.

I need to sleep so I can have energy when they come barreling full force into my room, so full of combustible energy they’re practically nuclear.

That’s why I need my sleep, Insomnia. Because I have nuclear missiles to raise. You can’t do that ish half-asleep-someone could get an eye poked out or start Armageddon….

And while I love Jesus, I gotta be honest and say I’m not ready to meet Him yet, not at 29. 79? Maybe. 109? Definitely.

But I digress….

Sleep. I need it because without it, I go skyrocketing off to another galaxy…one full of euphoric gas, rainbows, talking unicorns, million dollar gift cards to Target, and other glorious things one feels as they begin to tango with hypomania.

Without sleep, this over wired brain begins to short circuit….synapses, axons, dendrites, and other things I should’ve paid more attention to when my processor lectured on them in my Human Development class start to….misfire…yea I think that’s the term she used.

Anyway the point is without sleep my brain’s homeostasis is thrown outta wack and my bipolar comes out to play. Which is what you wanted in the first place and absolutely love because you two like to party together. Problem is after a few days of getting high, the twins Anxiety and Agitation show up to crash the party, bringing Depression and her dark, brooding thoughts with her.

As fun as the initial moments of hypomania are, I really prefer to be on the level side of things, so I’d really like you to leave. You’re dangerous…like playing with firecrackers dangerous, and I’d like to keep my body parts intact and spare my family a spin on the bipolar merry go round.

I’m sorry but staring off into the darkness while everyone else is knee deep in REM cycles isn’t my idea of fun. And again, neither is the crash that comes after the high.

You’re just too much of a trigger. I can’t have you around. You’ve gotta go.

So please free the Sandman from wherever you’re holding him hostage and hit the road. Bother someone who can actually make you work for them and not against ‘em.

Consider this a warning. If you fail to heed this warning, expect Ambien & Trazadone to pay you a visit. They’re like the Chuck Norris’ of sleep meds.

I’m not afraid to use them.

Signed,

Me

I Will Bloom Where I’m Planted

A couple of summers ago, Bertski & I took the boys to the Grounds for Sculpture garden up in Hamilton, New Jersey. It’s an expansive garden full of lush vegetation, intriguing contemporary art, and some amazingly creative sculptures. Camera in hand, I was inspired to snap away while Bertski & Brennan ran around exploring and Alex slept in the stroller.

I took close to a thousand pictures that day, so many different aspects of the garden captured my attention. My favorite part of the whole trip is evidenced by the large number of pictures I took of a pond in the corner of the garden….it was full of  some of the prettiest flowers I had ever seen, I couldn’t take my eyes (or my camera) off of them. They were tall, with long, strong-looking and thick stems that seemed to push them straight up out of the water and above the surface…boldly standing out from the lily pads and thrushes that surrounded them. Their petals seemed to unfurl as they bent themselves back and curved their way up toward the sun, leaving their innermost part, their circular seed pods, exposed to the sun, wind, and eyes of the world around them.

I’m quite illiterate when it comes to plants & flowers, so I had no idea what they were until I did a google search later that night. I had no idea that what I learned about lotus flowers that night would wake me up two years later, shouting at me to pay attention to an important life lesson.

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one of my snaps from that day…

You see lotus flowers are gorgeous. As they stretch themselves up and over the water, your eyes gaze upon the beauty and unique design of each one-whether they’re in full blossom or just starting to open up. What you don’t see, are the conditions they grow in. Lotus flowers are admired and loved because they can grow in the darkest and harshest of conditions and survive. Despite having to grow in a less than ideal environment, these flowers thrive and bloom where they are planted.

Bloom where you are planted….

I woke up with that thought and this information about lotus flowers shouting in my head this morning. As I laid there trying to understand why today of all days this was on my mind, it occurred to me that it’s June 1st.

A new month. New season. 6 months until a new year arrives (can you believe it?! ) and 5 months until I turn the dreaded 30.

Or do I have to dread turning 30? Let’s go over this again: new month, new season, half of the year left, and 5 months away from having lived 30 years on this Earth.

30 years. Of pain. Of abuse. Of brokenness. Of not knowing or understanding who I am, of living my life under the rule and control of others and their expectations, their standards. Of living my life based on the opinions of others, trying like hell to please them because I thought I needed their approval. Of having my life dictated by circumstance instead of choice.

30 years. Of heartache. Of shame. Of disappointment. Of misplaced guilt. Of misguided decisions. Of regret. Of loss. Of hating myself. Of wishing I could be like the women I secretly envy. Of compromise. Of insecurity. Of lacking confidence and believing the words of those who said I’d die or they’d kill me before I made it to becoming anything of worth and value. Of illness. Of excuses.

30 years. As I laid in my bed this morning I made a choice.

“I will not spend the next 30 years of my life like I have the first. I won’t spend the next 5 months like I have. No I won’t.

I’ve been through a lot of things in my first 29 years of living. I’ve had to see and endure things no one should, and yet I’m still here, I didn’t have it as bad as others. People have looked at my history and expected me to be a drug addict, an alcoholic, or dead. My psychiatrist says the fact that I only have a mental illness as a result of my genetics and trauma is something to be grateful for….and as illogical as it sounds, she’s right and I am. It’s not ideal, and I don’t like it, but in the grand scheme of things, I could be far worse off than I actually am and that’s nothing but a testament to how graceful God truly is.

30 years. I can’t change how the first 29 1/2 years of my life have gone. I can’t do anything about the darkness I’ve had to live in, or change the fact that I have to live with a darkness from an illness that threatens my well being daily.

But I can make a choice to grow above and beyond the environment I was forced to grow in up until this point. I can choose to live above and beyond the dark, murky waters of the last 29 1/2 years. I can choose to let go and push past. I can decide to stand tall like a lotus flower and bloom for others to see. I can choose to use the environment I’ve grown in to reveal what lies within my innermost parts-a woman with an authentic, compassionate, and whole heart to connect with others who are hurting and struggling to make it out of their own dark waters.

Yes. I can choose to let it all go and break forth and embark upon the next 30 years with fresh determination to live my life and not just survive it.

Today I’m choosing to bloom right where I’ve been planted. My beauty may have been broken by what happened beneath the surface, but my hope is that it brings something out of me that encourages and inspires others to reach toward the sun, like I am.