Monday, December 28, 2015

I'm The Least Likely Meditater...

I never thought I would be someone who meditated.

I will admit that prior to discovering meditation, I had no real idea what it was and looked a little strangely at people who said they practiced it. It seemed a silly practice to me. A waste of good TV time. Why are you just sitting there? How on earth is that helping you do anything? I don’t get it. If you are tired, just take a nap. That seems hard. That seems pointless.

Oh how WRONG I was!

A few years ago, my path to faith led me to Buddhism. I was so enthralled, intrigued, and fascinated by everything I was reading and discovering about my new path that I devoured every article and publication that I came across. Obviously this meant I was going to need to figure out what this meditation thing was all about, and I was intimidated. Everything I was reading painted a very different picture of this practice than I had ever known about it previously. It was no longer some strange reason to sit quietly, but a new way to finding my own mind. How was this possible?

I began slow. I would find ten minutes here and ten minutes there to sit quietly and clear my mind. On my lunch breaks in my car. Before I sat down to watch tv when I got home from work. After dinner. It wasn’t easy. I was learning on my own from scratch. Add to that my very busy mind. I like to compare it to a constantly running TV with a brick on the remote control’s channel button. It’s just scrolling over and over again through all the channels. All day, all night. I did what I read and sat still, closed my eyes, and concentrated only on my breathing. The pattern of the in and out of my breath. I felt it slow down. I felt my heart beat slow down. Unbeknownst to me, my blood pressure was also slowing down.

It felt so incredibly good. My nerves would calm and that television in my head was still running, but it seemed that brick had fallen on the mute button somehow because it was much quieter now in my head. When I would close my eyes and sit still, I would feel the tension leave my neck. I would feel my usual anxiety back away. Something was welling up inside of me, starting in my chest and spreading to my brain. It seemed to be taking the path of my blood vessels. My bones. My nerves. It was peace. The feeling of peace was washing over me.

 After a couple of weeks of actively making it a part of my every day, I got hooked. To my own surprise, I also got healthier. I found that without that ever pressing tension, I felt better. I was able to move around more freely. I also found that I was sleeping better. The television in my mind had stopped scrolling through the channels. It was now back under my control. This threw me for a loop because while I was simply looking for a way to connect with myself, I was finding a way to connect with everything and it was changing me. It’s something I will never be without for the rest of my life! This is incredible!

Then I had a baby.

She is my second, but there is a ten year age gap between my two kids. My son was six years old when I started practicing meditation so finding a quiet moment was not too hard. He is a pretty independent kid, even now at 11 years old. I could sit cross legged in front of Buddha and find that solitude that I needed while he was playing by himself, at school, or at his dad’s house . I had no idea then that I would eventually remarry and have another child or how that would impact my practice.

While I was pregnant, we fell on some hard times. Health, finances, a high risk pregnancy all contributed to my excuses for my lack of meditation through that time. None of those excuses was good enough and I should have kept up that practice at a time when I probably needed it more than any! I was dealing with a lot of stress and anxiety and was having a hard time finding a quiet moment so I just stopped looking for them. This was the wrong thing to do. The brick had fallen back on the remote in my mind and that television was back to its old tricks of scrolling all day and all night through all the channels. I was not sleeping well.

Then my gorgeous little girl was born! As is usually the case for new moms, the first few weeks were tough. They were wonderful and tough. The lack of sleep, physical recovery from a c-section, and caring for this new human life had my mind a tangled mess and I knew then that I needed meditation back in my life. I was also on my way back to work soon full time and I knew that would do a number on my soul being away from my little baby.

 I decided to try and find a few minutes each day to meditate. It was hard at first as the quiet moments I got were usually reserved for sleeping. I was determined though so went back to my early methods that got me started. I would look for ten minutes here and there to sit quietly and clear my mind. I would do it when baby girl was napping. I would do it after she had fallen asleep. It took me a while to get back into it, and I am still now trying to find a pattern again.

Being back at work, I am again finding those quiet moments on my lunch break or sitting at my desk when it’s slow. I am a work in progress but I can report that it is in fact working. The change in myself has been amazing, even after this short time back in the saddle. I am finding my anxiety backing away and the impact that even these small meditations have had on treating my postpartum depression has been incredible. Meditating doesn’t cure all my ills. It simply helps me better navigate them. This can do wonders for us all as new parents. (again!)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Out of the Darkness and Into the Light - Coping with Postpartum Depression

I have been dealing with some form of depression and anxiety for most of my life. I am 37 years old and I honestly can barely remember a time when this was not part of me. Part of my every day. Part of who I am. Over the years I have tried a lot of methods of self help and professional help to get through the vast fields of dead flowers in my mind to try and find the sunshine and soft new blooms that I know are there. Some things work, some don't, but I had found a way to mostly manage my every day despite some slips backwards here and there.
Then I had my children and I was introduced to a whole new level of darkness called PPD. It's not more dark than what I knew of depression before. The difference is that now you are responsible for this amazing, tiny human that came from inside your body. This mass of love and being that you cannot imagine life without. You should be elated. You should be glowing with motherly wisdom and centuries of experience welling up from your soul. Instead, you feel empty. You are a hole of darkness and numbness. You can't find your balance inside anymore. It's truly terrifying.
The biggest issue I have found in dealing with postpartum depression is that no one seems to take it seriously. It is assumed by many to simply be what is known as "baby blues" and nothing more. Once you are feeling better physically, you'll get over it. When that doesn't happen, people tend to look at you like you are simply a selfish person. Someone who doesn't know lucky she is. Or you are viewed as overly dramatic. Plenty of people had babies before you. This is nothing you are unable to handle. Buck up!

Here is the truth. PPD is a jerk. It will creep in during your recovery and slowly take over your mind. I have suffered from intense bouts of anxiety. I am terrified I will hurt my baby by accident. I fear dropping her. I fear forgetting her somewhere. I fear her choking. I am so paranoid about SIDS that I will watch her breathe all night at the loss of my own sleep. I am unable to leave her alone with most people. I don't like people outside of her father and I to hold her. I absolutely hate the idea of her being in anyone else's car. I fear car accidents. I fear fires. Normal fears, but mine are intense, overwhelming, and cause me to lose sleep and concentration. It overtakes me. This is on top of already very present depression and anxiety that has me terrified that one day I will just fling myself off my balcony. Not to die. Just to make it stop for a minute. Some moments are that intense.
New Jersey where I live has a law that requires obstetricians to screen new moms for postpartum depression. Some do more than others. Mine had a one on one talk with me after I filled out a questionnaire. At the time, mine was not nearly as bad as it has gotten so me telling him I was fine despite my questionnaire results was enough. I was already on medication via my primary care physician so I guess together we figured I was ok. Things got progressively worse from there. My general practitioner advised me to seek help from a psychiatrist who could better diagnose and monitor my condition with proper medications and therapies.
Mental health care in this country at this time is just awful. I went through every name my insurance company website spit out at me, trying to get an appointment with a psychiatrist. What I found were phone numbers that rang and rang, practices where the listed doctor was no longer a part, and waiting lists to see doctors that were three and four months long. It's like every psychiatrist in New Jersey ran away. I am still trying to get in to see someone.
In the meantime, I had to find ways to help myself. Being a mom is the most important part of my life. It IS my life. My kids are my everything. I need to be there for them 100% in mind and body and that is the one thing that has helped to keep me grounded and helped me to find a few ways to keep myself in check. If you are suffering yourself or know someone that is, here are a few ideas that might help find the light switch in the darkness:

It sounds a bit hippy, but it really does work. Nothing elaborate is required. You don't need to sit cross legged. You don't need to burn incense or listen to chanting or anything of the sort. You simply need a comfortable place to sit and just ten minutes in a safe place where you can close your eyes. Find your spot, have a seat. Close your eyes and allow your mind to go completely blank. It's hard the first time you do it, especially if you are like me and have a constantly running television in your brain that doesn't shut up. The trick for me is to focus on your breathing. Think about nothing but your own breathing. Listen to the pattern. Feel the air go into your lungs and then feel the air as it comes back out. Do this over and over again and do not allow your mind to wander to anything else. Just the simple breathing. In and out. Before you know it, ten minutes will have passed and you will have had a clear mind. Believe it or not, your blood pressure just went down!
I never thought I would be someone who meditates. I don't do it around other people. If I didn't tell people I did it, no one would know. I do it before I go to sleep to help ease my insomnia and anxiety. I do it on my lunch break, sitting in my car to help combat anxiety and depression. So give it a try. While your baby is napping, put him or her in a safe spot and sit right down next to them. Use the sounds of your own breathing (or theirs, if you find it as comforting as I do) to focus and clear your mind. Do it once a day if you can. Even once a week will make a difference.

Do you write? Do you paint? Do you color in your kids coloring books? Do something creative. Anything. Doodle on post-it notes. Decorate cupcakes. Look up how to carve lemons into birds like they did in the 70's at dinner parties. Anything that gives you focus. So much of what we are dealing with is centered in our mind causing our mind to spray about like a fire hose on full blast with no one holding on. Getting our minds to center is like the incredible hulk coming along and taking hold of that hose and pointing it where it needs to be to put out the fire. This is why there is a new fad of adult coloring books happening. So many adults nowadays deal with anxiety and the simple act of coloring actually helps to lessen anxiety and add focus. You can sit there and hum or talk to yourself, whatever you need to do. Get yourself some way to focus on your hands instead of inside your head.
I write. I sing. I bake. Anything that will put my brain somewhere specific is helpful.

This is a tough one. PPD is not something taken seriously by a lot of people so we tend to find ourselves looking at an empty room a lot. We pull away from the people we know, meanwhile the people that we know have pulled away from us usually just because they have no idea what the hell to do with us. We don't know how to talk about it. They don't know what's going on and for a lot of people its just easier to walk away. There is usually a much easier friend to have somewhere that is not you. I have watched this happen my whole life. I blame myself because if I knew how to be more open with what I am dealing with, maybe people would not assume I was being aloof. Or a bitch. If you have someone to be with, take a day or night every week or so and get out of the house. Get out of your usual space. If you don't have anyone, take your baby and go to the mall. I did this with my son after my first pregnancy (and first bout of PPD) and while you would think it would be lonely, it helped me a lot.
I loved watching my baby look at the world. I enjoyed the exercise. I would get myself a treat...a milkshake or slice of pizza or even a gumball, and that would be a part of my trip. I looked forward to those walks around the mall with my baby. It was human interaction but I didn't need to feel awkward because I didn't have anything to say or was not able to form sentences properly because of a bad anxiety day. I didn't have to talk to anyone. I simply strolled along for as long as I needed to.

This is SUCH a tough one. Depression makes us tired. It makes us hole up like a hermit. Some days just getting out of bed is a challenge for us. Now we are supposed to go exert ourselves? Get the hell out of here, lady. This is my actual conversation with myself on a regular basis. I am not going to pretend that I am some sort of fitness guru. Richard Simmons would never be my friend.

I make fun of fad diets, I joke about my own jiggles, I only run when chased. However, I cannot deny that something happens to the brain when I do actually get off my tush and do something. The normally out of whack chemicals in my brain get a jolt of something and they even out a little bit. Maybe it's the oxygen that is flowing more concentrated through my blood. Maybe my heart is happy to not be clogged with Doritos dust and is instead full of rushing platelets and happy chemicals. I don't know, but it actually works.
I am the biggest cynic. I am the laziest of the lazies. But I cannot deny that getting up and moving around helps depression and anxiety. If I can't find motivation to actually do proper exercises, which is very often, the best thing I have found is dancing. Not structured real dancing, just dancing. Putting on songs you love of an upbeat tempo and moving your body around. You don't need to be by yourself. I have done this with both of my babies. They will benefit from the interaction with you and you will benefit from the movement. Just take off your shoes, find yourself a clear piece of carpet, turn up the music and move around. Sing along, make faces at your baby, just wiggle yourself around a bit and you will get your blood moving. It really, really works. Don't tell anyone I said that.

Postpartum depression is a real jerk, but you are not alone. There are a lot of us out here weathering the storm with you. You CAN get through this. Even if you, like me, are having a hard time getting the professional help you need, try a few of these ideas to help you regain your center. These are relatively simple and inexpensive ways to calm yourself and reel in a wandering, anxious mind. After a good mediation, look into the eyes of your baby. You'll see why you are here. Why you are on this big, blue planet. I hope you find peace. We are all in this together.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Positivity IS Possible

Some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue.

Ever hear this phrase? It rings very true for a few reasons. Basically it's saying that some days you are the one on top. You are the one taking the dump. You fly along, doing your thing. Everything is cool. Gotta go? No worries! Let it go!


Right onto the statue. The unwavering statue. Can't move from where it sits and just has to take what happens with a straight face. The rain will come eventually and wash it away, but there will always be another bird coming.

I have always found this to be very relatable to life. It doesn't matter how much you think you have it all together. Something will come along to derail that concept eventually. For some of us in the trenches, it's a constant shift between bird and statue. Work, family, finances, life. The struggle to balance it all and keep your focus. Factor in a lifelong  battle with depression and anxiety, and the balance is more complicated to maintain. Your scale seems perpetually weighted too heavy on one side, so you are always trying to compensate for that on the other side. It's exhausting.

I was diagnosed with clinical depression when I was 16, though I felt it's creeping darkness long before that. Over the years, I have tried everything to keep that darkness at bay, or at least under some sort of control. Younger days were spent trying to pretend it wasn't there. I numbed it with alcohol. I covered it up with the attention from other people that I craved and did whatever I had to in order to get. I fought the loneliness with promiscuity. I made a lot of broken promises. My heart took the brunt of it.

Later as I moved into my thirties, I was a divorced single mom and the old methods were no longer applicable to my life. I tried various medications. Some worked, some didn't. I finally found one that did the job better than the rest and I stuck with it. I stumbled into mediation and yoga and those helped. I found Buddhism and threw myself into my studies, trying desperately to understand the world around me. About this time, I was also diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder that affects the nerves. I was on medication though, so I was coping with it. The darkness was more of a gray than a black these days, and sometimes was even a blue or a purple. I fell back in love and got engaged. We became pregnant.

We lost the pregnancy.

My world stopped spinning for a little while. I seemed to forget all those coping mechanisms that I had used over the years and just shut down. It was a working shut down though, and I continued to function. I went to work. I planned a whole wedding. I attended several. I lost a job, got a new job, Things just kind of happened around me and I took part, but I didn't seem to feel any of it. It was like trying to talk with novacane. You can make the sounds, you can communicate, but you can't really feel it happening. You know it is because you can hear your own voice. You know you are making it happen. But that sensation of motion you would normally feel is just not there. This was me going about life.

This is how depression will happen. It will always be there, and eventually we can get a handle on it. We can find life again through those clouds and finally see the sun again. Something will happen though that will knock it all off track, plunging us back into darkness and we have to scramble to find that footing again. This is not easy. This is hard as hell.

But you CAN do it. Even through the darkness, positivity is possible.

My husband and I became pregnant again last year. The fear that filled me was incredible. I was afraid everything I did would make me lose the pregnancy again. I was afraid of myself. I was afraid of the world. My depression and anxiety were incredible despite my medication. My doctor kept me on the meds throughout my pregnancy and this year I gave birth to a healthy little girl. Would I be ok with this? Would I be able to feel the love through all the darkness?

It's not easy for me. My ordinary depression and anxiety has been compounded by PPD - postpartum depression. Every single day I have to wake up with the determination to make the day a success. Depression is not a choice for me. It's a disease. I have to fight it like one. Part of that is being positive. Some days I win. I wake up and tell myself I will make this day a success, and it is. Some days I lose. I wake up and tell myself I will make this day a success, and I lose terribly to the darkness. It overtakes me. But I know I tried. I did my best. I will always do my best for my kids. I know they need a mom who is here - who is present. Who can get things done and keep the smile on her face. I won't be anything less for my kids.

So methods. How can we do it?

I have found that being kind to others is a huge motivator. Kindness is infectious like good laughter. Once you see it and you feel it around you, it's hard to resist. When everyone is being kind to one another, do you want to be the lonely jerk? No. Of course you don't. All that aside, it just feels so GOOD to be kind. Something as simple as a smile for the person you pass in the supermarket. Hold the door for the person coming in behind you. Smile and be polite and cheerful for the cashier, no matter their demeanor towards you. It becomes habit and it feels very good.

Being neat also helps me. If I keep a clean environment around me, it helps keep the environment in my head a bit cleaner as well. Simple acts like making sure the dishes are done every night makes a big impact on me. Waking up to a dirty, disorderly kitchen ruins my mental space for the day. Waking up to a clean, orderly kitchen in the morning is a breath of fresh air to start my day. I am also a big fan of occasionally moving my furniture. The change in the room seems to shift the energy in my home and things feel new and improved, even if all they are is in a different place.

Keeping lists is another big one. It seems like a small thing, but if I have a list of things I need to get, things I need to do, people I need to pay, etc, it feels like things are orderly. It feels like things are organized. It's a small thing but has a big impact.

Most than anything, it's telling myself that I am doing ok. Sitting in meditation for a few minutes to clear my head and then letting myself know I am ok. I am doing well. I can get through the task at hand. I can make it happen. Things are ok.

Some days I will still be the statue. But I am having more days where I am the bird than I used to. Here is hoping you have your feathers as well.

Monday, December 7, 2015

My Unconventional, Unexpected Support System

People are always going to walk in and out of your life.

This is the truth of life. Sometimes for a while you have a full floor show cabaret dancing around you all the time. Drinks, celebrations, streamers, confetti just spewing everywhere. You always have someone in your corner. Someone is in every corner! Then sometimes you are sitting alone in the corner, nursing a drink, all by yourself. That is just how life works. Sometimes it's our fault. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's just the way the planet spins. Sometimes when you live with depression and anxiety, it happens no matter what and you don't realize it.

Your schedule will not always jive with the folks in your life. Your lives will change. Your focus will shift. That floor show will dwindle in your more complicated, confusing times, mostly because we just don't know how to talk about shit. In my case, my head and it's inner workings sent me into the corner to nurse my drink and think about things, and I sat there and got drunk for a while. I sat down there one day and didn't get up again until I got pregnant. Through my wedding. Through job changes. That is how depression works. One day, you just shut the door. Often, you don't realize you did it. Sometimes people notice, often they don't. It's usually just assumed you are being aloof or dramatic or difficult or just a plain old bitch. Often, people tell you "You've changed". If only they knew you didn't. If only you knew how to tell them. If only they knew how hard it is that you don't know how.

Like Howard Jones says, no one is to blame. Truthfully, this really is life. And it will probably happen again. That doesn't make it any easier once you realized it's happened. I have been living with this disease most of my life. I don't remember life before it came. I only know life since it came in it's many forms, both medicated and not medicated. It's hard to make people understand what it's like. I'm not sad. I have a disease.

Then you become a parent. Sometimes that is what causes things to change. Sometimes that is what tells you that you need someone to talk to. For me, it is what showed me how much I needed something. I was introduced after both of my kids' births to an asshole named PPD and things got progressively worse. After my son was born, I had it, I was medicated, and I ignored it and hoped it would go away. It never did, but I convinced myself it did.

Life continued, and almost 11 years later, I had my daughter. Here comes asshole PPD again, only this time it brought friends. I have been battling it since. I have been in a mental holding pattern it seems since my daughter's birth. It's now been four months. Unfortunately, thanks to the horrific state of mental health care in this country, it's not the easiest thing to get treatment either. I have chronicled this a bit in a previous blog. At present, I am still waiting to see a doctor. This would all be extremely difficult if not for an unexpected and unconventional support system.

My first pregnancy with my now 11 year old son was complicated. I gained a lot of weight, I had a long labor, and a difficult birth and recovery. This time around, pregnancy was scary...but after what I went through the first round, I figured I was prepared. I was wrong. I was deemed high risk. I had lots of tests. I had lots of worries. I had a more than a few scares. Two head over heels down two flights of stairs. I had a c-section after having had a vaginal birth the first time. I had a ton of questions. A ton of worries. Sometimes I wondered how crazy I was driving my husband.

I was fortunate. I stumbled upon a website that introduced me to a mom's group. The folks that would help me keep my head above the water. My unconventional, unexpected support system.

I had one during my first pregnancy and when things got complicated in my life way back when, I fell away from it. When I became pregnant again so many years later, I went looking for it again and was unable to find it. I did find another forum though and began going there with my fears, my questions, the stuff I had a hard time talking to other people about. It was support I needed. People dealing with the same things I was. At the same stage of life. What a relief! Then I lost the pregnancy.

I had to step away from the group for a while to mourn the loss. It was after this that I felt myself start to slip into a funk. We had not planned to become pregnant when we did, but when it happens and you realize that it was something you wanted all along. Then all of a sudden, it's gone. A life within your body. A light that was just suddenly turned off. It's not something I think you ever really get over. I pulled back a lot then. It is really what started the snowball rolling down the hill. There is no book on how to deal with something like this. No manual. Some websites and literature, but grieving someone I never met was not something I was at all prepared to do. I never will be. From that moment on, I was walking numbly through my life. My already present brain issues now shrouded in something I could not shake off. Again though, I just told myself I was ok.

I didn't know how much I wasn't. But, a year later, we found ourselves pregnant again. Terrified but joyful, I went back to the forum where I had found wisdom and support and this time my pregnancy stuck. Over the next few months, a group of mom's expecting at the same time as me migrated to a Facebook group to keep better connected. I will never be able to explain how important this was, and is, in my life.

Together, we got to know one another's families. One another's hopes. One another's dreams. One another's fears. All the while, there was a supportive hand on my back. In the rest of my life, I was battling myself every day. Walking through a cloud I couldn't manage to explain to anyone, no matter how hard I tried. But I always had that hand on my back. I didn't have to explain why I was not present. I didn't have to explain why I didn't call. I didn't have to do anything but be, and that was what I really needed then. We experienced tragedies and losses together. We experienced scary events in our pregnancies. Falls, accidents, early labors, early deliveries. NICU's. Confusions. Family troubles. And then we experienced joy. Births.

Amazing, wonderful, terrifying, incredible births. Including my own.

So many emotions flooding through me. I had other women struggling with PPD to talk to. I had women who had not dealt with it themselves, but were still eager to understand and offer whatever they had to give. As I was falling apart, I was being held together. There was a story in the news recently about a mom who had passed away not long after the birth of her child. Her husband was not really aware of the mom group she belonged to...until donated breast milk began to arrive. (you can read about it HERE) In our group, we shared the story and said, "This would be us..."

And it would be.

My husband didn't really understand my mom group, but he laughed with me at pictures of adorable babies, cried with me at tragedies within the group, and really understood it when one day, after things had been hard for us recently, a box of penis shaped gummy candies showed up in our mail. Followed not to long after by two huge containers of Nutella and an anonymous gift. Things we had discussed. Things we had joked about. Things that were just intended to bring a smile. Then he got it. He was my main support beam, but he knows one beam can't hold up the whole house when it's as rickety as this one tends to be. These were not just women chatting on the internet. These were women across the world who really, truly cared about one another. I will never forget these women. I pray they are always in my life.

I am still dealing with my demons. I fight them every day. It would be a lot harder though without the army behind me. My husband, my family, and my moms group. The army I didn't know I needed until I needed. If you are struggling, I pray you can find an army. An army of one, an army of many. Just that hand on your back so you know, even when things are difficult and you don't know how to proceed, someone is there to guide you through the dark.