to my husband

EN&MH: A Letter to my Husband About Mama’s Depression.

If you’ve been around here the past month or so, you know May was hard on me. I’ve been struggling with a pretty deep depression. Whether it’s related to physical reasons, seasonal things, who knows. What I do know is mamas depression has been prevalent and loud.

In the wake of this season of depression, I have found myself slacking in certain areas. In those areas my husband has had to step up. Today I wanted to share with the world a letter of thank you to my husband, who has stepped up so much in my brokenness.

To my husband, picking up the slack in the midst of my mental illness.

I am so sorry.

I hate that this is how my mind works. Whenever my moods spin out of control and my emotions are wild, it seems we find ourselves here. You doing far more than you should in our partnership and me trying to get by. The laundry, the dishes, picking up-they all seem to feel like milestones that I can’t keep on top of. An outsider sees our house and would say, “No Lauren, you’re doing great!” but you know the truth. Far more often I’m doing great at watching a movie with the kids or I’m baking so I can overindulge.

My moods change more than I want. The swings are intense and you love me through them. You love me even when I’m yelling over milk spilling or seething at something so meaningless. When there is no patience left in me, you are a rock I am able to lean into. You’re the anchor as my storms toss our family boat around.

I really am sorry you have to be those things. Through thick and thin you are though.

I hope you know how thankful I am that you are the man I married. That God knew exactly what He was doing when He put you in my life. I hope you know how grateful I am that you are picking up my slack. That you show up at 125% on the days I barely manage 50. Dear husband, I hope you know how much I love that about you.

My sweet husband, I hope you know I wish I could just get better. That it was as simple as choosing to feel better or getting over it. I pray you know everyday that I would rather be awesome and fun all the time. That I want to love you as well as you love me constantly. I hope you know I am trying. I am trying so so so hard to be better. And I am so sorry I’m not yet.

I hope you know this depression isn’t a reflection of you.

My prayer is you know it’s not because I’m unhappy with our marriage. It isn’t in response to being discontent with the life we are living. I am so happy with the life we have made. You are the best husband I ever could have asked for and I would choose you a thousands times more.

I am forever thankful for how well you love me. How sacrificially you love me. I imagine God smiles down on you because you truly love your bride as Jesus loved the church.

I hope you never doubt that I see you. Someday, hopefully in the near future, I will be back to normal. Someday, maybe, you will need me to love you a little more. To pick up your slack. To hold you as you cry and love you as you break.

Until that day comes though, I pray you now that I appreciate you so much my sweet husband. For the moods you endure, the tears you dry, the late nights you hug me through. I am so thankful that I married a man who steps up and picks up my slack as I fail.

And is crazy enough to tell me I’m not failing.

Yes, husband, you’re crazy enough to carry so much of the weight in these seasons and yet still deny you are carrying it. You never call me out for slacking on any of it. You simply come in and pick up, treating me with more grace than I can ever extend myself.

Husband-I am lucky to have you. I pray you always know that I know I’m lucky.

Thank you for picking up the slack me. I love you.

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EN&MH: Talking to Your Kids About Your Mental Health

Hey sweet friends! Today on Exploring Neurodiversity and Mental Health, I wanted to talk to you about your older kids! Specifically how to talk to your older kids about their parents mental illness. In May, I’ve focused intently on Maternal Mental Health. Today’s post is within that umbrella though I am in no way trying to make is sound as though only mothers struggle with a mental illness. This one is for you dads out there too!
As you know if you’ve ever looked at my blog before, I value honesty and openness within the parent-child relationship. I am a firm believer that those traits are the only way we will raise mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy children. I’ve talked about discussing sex openly with your children before. Right now I am working on a post about talking about struggling with faith with your kids. Kids are kids, yes, and there are some topics that are less comfortable to talk with them about. But we must prepare them for this world.

Abstinence only education does not help our children. Same goes for an education that erases mental illness.

Talking about our own mental illnesses with our kids can seem daunting though. I still remember the day our oldest son asked me “So Lauren, why did you leave college?”
It was a hard conversation to have, but I wanted the truth to be out there. So I explained in understandable terms what happened and why I left. I not only empowered my personal experience with mental illness but in turn gave him the tools if he ever needed to talk about a mental illness to another.
Now that’s not to say it was easy. And I totally do not have all the answers on the best ways to do this. I however did want to share what worked for us and how to approach the topic with your kids.


Be aware of what your child can comprehend.

Children have different abilities at all ages and developmental steps. Each child is different. I’m not going to lecture you on what your child is able to understand because you are the person who knows them best. I can tell you this-what I tell my 21 year old about my mental health is very different from what I tell my seven year old. While I do not lie to either, nor do I tell it in niceties, my adult son is capable of comprehending what I am telling him much more clearly than my younger children.

Maybe you’re sitting there wondering “How do I know what they are able to understand?” That’s a hard question to answer. Our little Princess tends to be more in tune with things than most 8 year olds I know, but Monkey usually miss a lot more behaviors tied to mental health. Maybe your life looks similar to that. If you’re unsure what they are able to hear at this point, ask them questions. Let them ask questions. Gauge what they are retaining by having it be an ongoing conversation. Much like sex and their bodies, their comprehension will change with age.

It can’t be a once and done conversation. It’s okay to have it be continuous and morphing with each step.

When I first told Doodle I struggle with anxiety, I said it just like that. I was apologizing for checking her seat belt a third time before leaving. As she has matured, I have shared with her specific parts of my life that have caused my anxiety and why some of those anxieties at times feel projected onto her behaviors. I would venture to say that we have a much better relationship because she understands where I am coming from. While haven’t sat her down and had full out conversations about exactly what causes my PTSD, I have told her that’s what I struggle with and why.

I know this isn’t always the easiest conversation to have. To be completely authentic here, I didn’t even make this choice on my own. A trusted elder pushed me to do it and I took his word on it. Talking about it totally helped though.

Acknowledge the parts your kids can notice-they’re picking up more than you realize.

One of my biggest pet peeves as a parent is that I find we tend to assume our kids don’t notice anything. We pretend that we can hide things so well they will miss what’s really going on. That’s just false. Kids are so much more aware than we give them credit for.

You may think you’re behaviors are too small or your children are too young. This may not be true. Even the smallest thing sticks to our kids.

Let me tell you a little story. My mother hates when her food touches. Hates it. I watched as she put huge spaces between her food for most my life. For her this wasn’t a behavior due to OCD or an eating disorder-it was just how she liked to eat. But she never thought anyone else ever noticed or it effected us. My Mema doesn’t drink while she eats. Also not a behavior because of a mental illness, just a preference. They have both told our families this. Seemingly super small things that probably would never stay in the mind of a small child right?

But after years of watching these behaviors, my siblings and I know these as facts. I no longer even offer Mema water or milk with her meal and when I make a plate for my mama you bet your bottom nothing touches.

Yes, these have nothing to do with mental illness, but it is to serve as an reminder that even the smallest things we believe our kids don’t noticed are noticed by them.

Treat it like a REAL illness.

It is so easy to wave off mental illness. So, so easy. I catch myself doing it sometimes still. “Oh yeah, I mean I have anxiety but it’s not that big of a deal.”

Right now, in this moment, it doesn’t feel like that big of a deal to me. I have it mostly under control. And I understand trying to brush it off as not a big deal in general, with the hope as to not scare your kids. But as I mentioned above, they’re pretty intuitive. Most kids will only be afraid if there is a reason to be.

More important is what their lifelong reaction to mental illness will be. Mental illness is a real illness. Repeat that a few more times. We are taught to treat it differently than anything else because it’s all in our heads. This belief is so ingrained into our culture that even those of us who are advocates sometimes forget to treat our own mental health as kindly as our physical health.

We need to treat our kids that mental health matters.

Be okay with being uncomfortable.

Ladies and gents-we all hate to be uncomfortable. It’s just a fact of life. And some of these conversations may be really uncomfortable. They may bring up conversations you don’t know if you’re ready to have yet. Your child may ask questions you truly don’t want to answer. And that stinks.

I know it can be really hard to cross over some of those lines. We are all here struggling with different mental illnesses, so I can only speak generally and for myself. One really hard conversation I am not looking forward to having someday is when my children ask me where my scars came from. I dread it. I truly do. But the fact it will make me uncomfortable or may be a hard conversation to have doesn’t mean I can shy away from it. If anything the sensitive subject needs to be pushed even harder to talk about because it is such a raw and vulnerable area of my life. 

And don’t forget- if all else fails, get help from a professional. There’s no shame in bringing your child with you to a therapist and having them assist you in explaining what’s going on with your mental health. Having a second person to help may further your child’s understanding.

Mamas, I know this is a hard topic to breech. Some of you may be thinking “Wow, thank GOD I only have an infant for now!”

While I know it can be a hard topic, it’s also such an important one.

As I said above, the way we speak to our children about mental health will shape the way they talk about it forever. If we are ashamed and embarrassed by our diagnoses, they will learn that. They will learn mental illness is something to be ashamed of. If we are open, they will learn the opposite. We empower them to speak about their own mental health. We will teach them that the stigma surrounding mental illness is outdated and silly.

When we talk about mental illness openly and freely, we will raise a generation of people who are empathetic. Who are compassionate. Who are educated.

So please, step outside your comfort level and share your mental illness with your children. Be open, be bold, and be freed.

It’s time to end the stigma, one little person at a time.

*Don’t forget next weeks EN&MH will happen on Tuesday, May 30th!!*

helping a friend

EN&MH: We’re Contributing to Our Loved Ones Maternal Mental Illnesses (&How to NOT)

On the third installment of my mini series inside Exploring Neurodiversity and Mental Heath, I’m talk today to the older mamas, the more experienced grandmothers, the people who should be showing the most support yet may be doing the most damage to those just joining our army of mothers. Again, this was written in honor of Maternal Mental Health Month. This article can be used for those women who just gave birth, those adopting infants and those doing foster to adopt.

Depression in motherhood seems to be at an all time high. I see people blame everything, from the foods they eat to the comparison game we play on Instagram. People say it may not be that depression and mental illness is at an all time high, but acceptance is and that has led more people to open up about theirs. I definitely agree that is a good thing. I’m not sure we can pinpoint an exact reason why so many new mothers struggle with mental health, but I do think I know one thing that contributes to it.

You.

Okay, well, maybe not you, not specifically. But definitely older moms. Grandmothers. Women in the church. Women online. In message groups. During the discussions for nursery at your church.

I’m not talking about the comparison game. We’ve all heard about the dangers of online comparison. Jealousy and inadequacy are amplified as you see the perfect life others may be living on Instagram. That may be a contributing factor as well. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

I want to talk to you guys today about the disease that fills our young mothers souls-a disease of dread, apathy, and resigning to exhaustion and loneliness. The disease of “Welcome to motherhood.” Of “Get used to it now.”

And this disease is spread by the women we love most in our lives.

I’ll be the first to admit, in defeat, I’ve done this to other mamas. They are complaining about how tired they are and I laugh. “Oh, you’ll live your life in exhaustion. Welcome to motherhood.” I’ve tried to stop, since recognizing what “standing in solidarity” does to the new moms in my life. It strips them of their hope. The empathy they are hoping to receive becomes dread at what the future holds.

We take away the future joys of motherhood by lamenting the hardships.

I see it everywhere. Pregnant women are told they won’t ever sleep again. We nod in agreement when a new mom is saying how lonely she is, mentioning the last play date we had was months ago. We share in laughter at the very thought of how lucky some moms are to have a partner who helps. Messy houses are shrugged at, as we eloquently dream of “someday.”

Someday we will be able to sleep again. One day our house will be clean. Someday we will eat right, get date nights, be adequately met in our need for self care.

Someday, someday, someday.

What if instead of meeting moms where they need to be met, we are simply hurting the moms we love by these jokes and jabs at motherhood?

Now imagine this instead. Because obviously, I’m not here to just yell at us all for being failures and walk away. That’s a little outside my norm right? I like to fix problems, not cause them!

Instead picture this.

You know a woman at your church just gave birth. It’s her second in 18 months. You want to joke about never sleeping again, but you hold your tongue. Instead you send her a message on Facebook and offer to make her a meal. You bring over something, because you know as well as I do she’s not going to make a nutritious meal with two little ones. You stay around for awhile, helping her wrangle her almost two year old. The dishes are still sitting there from a few days earlier so you roll up your sleeves and do them while she relaxes. Eventually you’re heading home, leaving her a few leftovers for the middle of the night feeding and a cleaned up kitchen.

Instead of taking away any hope she may have of bouncing back, you’re giving her love and hope.

Bringing Christ into her life as she struggles in those first few weeks-the hardest there are in my opinion. You’ve given her food, company, a mini break, and the love she needs in that moment.

What if, and this is a radical notion, we stepped up and offered that to the new moms we all know and love? Or the ones who may not be new, but are in the midst of the struggle. Because, trust me, even as an experienced mama I need that love from my village. (Can I be considered an experienced mama yet?!)

I would love to challenge all the women (and men, maybe!) out there to step forward and offer love to these mamas instead of unfunny jokes and hope draining jabs. If you’re a mom, think of this-would that comment help you in the middle of your crisis mode? Or would it hurt you even more? If you’re not a mom…ask me!

I don’t believe this will eradicate maternal mental illness. I’m well versed enough in mental health to know there are so many factors to mental illness. I am also well versed enough to know this would help so many mamas I know. It would have helped me. Below I have a few concrete ways to help instead of making comments on a Facebook post!

And mamas, if you find yourself identifying with the mama who isn’t being very helpful, give yourself grace. You can and WILL do better.

maternal mental helth

EN&MH: Maternal Mental Health Month.

Hey sweet friends! On our Exploring Neurodiversity and Mental Health series this month I am going to be focusing on Maternal Mental Health. May is Maternal Mental Health month. Becoming a mom who struggled with mental health before pregnancy made me acutely aware of the risk of postpartum mental illness. However, even with all my heightened risk factor, I was still shocked when I developed postpartum depression and anxiety.

My postpartum depression stole all the joy from Bug’s infancy.

As I write those words, I’m brought to tears again. I never wanted to not enjoy my baby being a baby. The anxiety and shame in seeking help was so intense though. For those who don’t know, Josh and I began trying to conceive as soon as we were married. After ten cycles, which I know in retrospect isn’t long, I finally had the baby we had prayed for.

Yet I spent most my pregnancy unhappy and depressed. We lost a close family friend right after I found out I was pregnant, we had two high needs foster children, and my hormones were out of control. I went on antidepressants to get through pregnancy. I should have been happy after Bug arrived.

Those should haves can destroy us though, can’t they?

Towards the end of my pregnancy my father was very sick. I’m talking surgery on his brain, scary sick. We also began visits for those foster children and we had just gone through court for another set. I had every right to be emotional. With my history of anxiety and depression, especially, I should have been prepared. On top of all that, my birth with Bug went completely the opposite way I wanted and I was a mess.

Yet I was so ashamed of feeling the way I did. Despite being well educated(in my humble opinion), on mental health, I felt like this was my fault. I don’t want any other mom out there to ever feel guilty and ashamed of how her body, hormones, and mind react to pregnancy, birth and a baby.

I want to spend the month of May talking about Maternal Mental Health. What can you expect? Today I’m going to give a little intro into just that.

I’ve shared how to recognize the difference and some facts about postpartum depression before at “When It’s More Than Just Baby Blues.” I also shared right before Bear “7 Ways I am Trying to Avoid PPD This Time Around.” I’m not going to be repeating this information over again! I have brand new posts to share throughout the month on topics I haven’t covered before.

The Schedule for Maternal Mental Health Month:

May 3rd: An Introduction…well what you’re reading right now!

May 10th: How to Talk to a Loved Mama You Think is Struggling. Sometimes, we notice a mama is struggling even before she does. Coming out and saying that though…that can be hard! I will be sharing some delicate ways to

May 17th: Maybe PPD is Partially Our Fault. Oh snap. this is an article I thought about writing for awhile. It’s going to dive into the possibility that we as a mom society are not helping younger or new moms but instead forcing them into a lonely place where PPD/A developing isn’t a shock. It will also have some ways to ACTUALLY help new moms and families.

May 24th: Talking to Older Kids About Your Mental Illnesses. This is actually something I have been passionately wanting to write about. My kids know I have mental illnesses. I will not and CAN not lie to them about that. I’m going to give you some tips to talk to your kids about yours or your spouses mental health.

May 30th: PLEASE NOTE THE DAY CHANGE. I will be joining a campaign where we are all sharing our motherhood journeys and different lives with maternal mental illnesses. We Are Motherhood is the title of campaign. You can check out the introductory post here! Today will be the day I share about my personal experience with maternal mental health. I’m going to talk a little about OCD and anxiety being intensified after birth and living with OCD, depression, and PTSD constantly as a mother. Again, this will be posted on a Tuesday and NOT my regular Wednesday!

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EN&MH: Panic Attacks and Tips to Handle Them

This week on Exploring Neurodiversity and Mental Health, we’re going to be talking about panic attacks. As a person who struggles with anxiety and OCD, I have spent a lot of time dealing with panic attacks. In high school, I dealt with panic attacks on a weekly basis. For awhile I was dealing with them very well and then Bug was born. While dealing with PPD, I began having panic attacks again. You could say this is once again a post that’s very important to my heart.

A panic attack is a sudden onset of feelings of discomfort or fear. They begin in an abrupt manner. Commonly, panic attacks are over within ten minutes. However, feelings of anxiety, stress, or being “off” may last for the rest of the day. I have found that the sudden and intense emotions, as well as the physical reaction to a panic attack, leave me exhausted for the day. 

The physical reactions include(but may not be limited to):

-An accelerated heart rate or palpitations.

-Shaking or trembling

-Feelings of numbness or tingling

-Feeling light headed, dizzy, or faint.

-Fear of losing control or “going crazy”

-Feelings of disconnect from reality or from oneself.

-A choking like sensation

-Shortness of breath

-Fear of dying

Panic attacks can be terrifying, even for those of us who deal with them on a regular basis.

Panic attacks can be a very treatable. There are many coping mechanism one can use to get through a panic attack and try to ward them off early in the onset. Panic attacks themselves are not a mental illness. They are most often a result of an anxiety disorder. If you think that you are having them though, the best choice is to reach out to your doctor and discuss your options to treat them.

As a person who has struggled with panicking, I wanted to share some of my personal tips on dealing with them-both as the person having one and a witness. Before we go on though, I want to stress not all attacks look alike. Like any mental illness,  there are different triggers and ways to manage. We all may need different assistance while struggling. That’s why I’m going to share a handful of ways for both oneself and as a person sitting next to someone having one. Hopefully at least one of these mechanisms will help!

If you are having a panic attack: 

Breathing Techniques:

As you feel your body begin to have that shortness of breath an increased heart rate, begin to mindfully breathe. Take a deep breath in for a few moments, hold it for a second, then deep breath out. Forcing yourself to physically slow your breathing can begin to taper down the attack. It should help calm you. Whike some professionals will encourage specific times for breathing in or out, I have found just being aware helps. Often in the depths of panic attacks I am not able to concentrate enough immediately at counting the seconds and breathing simultaneously.

Grounding yourself:

I’ve seen this done two ways and use both frequently. The first way is to find objects to name off and identify. I will simply look around myself and name whatever I see. “There is a pepper shaker. The top is silver. It’s three kinds of pepper. There is the salt shaker…” and so forth. This technique will bring your focus away from the panic attack and if you can identify it, the trigger.

The second grounding technique I use is focusing on things I hear, see, smell, taste, and can touch. This helps immensely with the feelings of losing touch with reality that can occur during a panic attack. You are reminded that you are very real and sitting in this room. It smells like feet, you still taste breakfast, you hear people outside. Those are all real things and you are still in control.

MOVE:

I’m going to be straight up honest friends, I hate this one. Panic attacks often leave me shaking, with very low blood pressure and a high heart rate. Moving seems like the last thing I want to do. But…it works. Simply getting up and pacing can often make your body feel more in control. It can also help ground you as you focus on lifting your feet and landing back on the floor. Movement will help regulate breathing as well-you can’t forget to breathe while you walk!

Talk It Out:

If at all possible, find someone safe to talk to through the panic attack. Talking helps on both the physical and emotional level. Speaking will force you to stop your labored breathing long enough to get a sentence out. It can also help on an emotional level. Saying your anxieties aloud may be terrifying, but giving them a name may help calm you down.

When finding someone to talk to about this, make sure you have a supportive person. This person should not diminish nor crack jokes at your state. If they are capable of speaking back in a positive way, I encourage them to do that as well. Some people may be worried about talking to you in that state but can provide more grounding. And if they are able to help ease or rid the trigger that caused your panic attack, that is even better!

Remember- This will end and YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DIE.

My first panic attack was at school. I literally thought I was dying. My heart rate was going fast, I couldn’t breathe, everything was numb. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. I was very blessed though to have a faculty where one had experienced panic attacks before and calmed me down. She said to me over and over again, “I know you feel like you’re going to die…but you will be okay.”

Even as an experienced “panicker”(made that word up!) I still need to remind myself each time, “This will not kill you. No one dies from a panic attack.” In the moment it is so scary. I know. Remember though-it will end. And you will be okay when it does. 

If You’re Supporting Someone Having a Panic Attack:

First-thank you. If you see a friend or a family member having panic attacks or you know they do, thank you for reading this. I know it’s not easy to step into a helping position when it comes to mental health. And if you are not well versed on mental health, it can be really scary. I hope some of these things will help you help those you love.

Secondly though, please please please ask your loved one before you do any of these things. While you may think a person is not able to vocalize what they need during a severe panic attack, they still have the right for you to ask. Before moving forward with any of my suggestions, please confirm that is what the person panicking wants from you. Kind hearted people have tried to help only to throw me further into a state of disarray because they didn’t ask if what they were about to do was okay.

I hope this article was helpful to someone! Please remember, I am always here if you ever need any more advice on finding a therapist or becoming okay with a diagnosis!

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EN&MH: I Don’t Have the Kind of OCD You Joke About

Last week for Exploring Neurodiversity and Mental Health, I shared an informational piece on obsessive compulsive disorder. This week I wanted to share with you all a piece I wrote entitled, “I Don’t Have the Kind of OCD You Joke About.”

I want to share a secret with you all. I have obsessive compulsive disorder. That’s not a real secret, though I know some people who know me scoff at this admission. “OCD, Lauren? Really? We’ve seen your kids and your house…”

Truth is I do have OCD. I was diagnosed after Bug and after further exploring it we realized it wasn’t only because of my postpartum anxiety/depression. OCD is something I have lived with my entire life. But I don’t have the kind of OCD people joke about. My OCD is not what they portray as obsessive compulsive disorder on television or in movies.

I don’t care about germs. Disorganization doesn’t bother me. You should see the floor of our Yukon or, well, the coating of stuff that covers the floor of my Yukon. This is why people’s eyebrows grace their hairline when I admit to having OCD. I’m nothing like Monk. I don’t compulsively wash my hands and I am 50 shades of unorganized.

I don’t have the OCD you joke about your mom having because she doesn’t like when you put the dishes away wrong.

My OCD? Well it looks like this…

Sitting on the bathroom floor, rocking back and forth as I try to get the image of my family members murdered on our living room couch out of my head. Because once it enters? It’s there to stay. Even writing this I am afraid to close my eyes. The images that grace my imagination are nothing short of horrifying.

It looks like my tracing my veins because obviously inspecting them will tell me if I caught an incurable disease.

Nightmares that wake me up in a moist bed, shaking from the dreams I just had. The lingering feeling after I awaken. The graphic images making me unable to clothes my eyes to go back to sleep.

Tapping my body parts 10 times to attempt to bring me back to reality when my images and thoughts run out of control.

Calling my husband three dozen times to make sure he’s okay. And having a panic attack when he doesn’t answer and therefore may not be okay.

Walking out of church because I hear sirens go by and I assume it’s one of my family members who is hurt. Sneaking out the back as I frantically check to see if anyone I love has updated their status. Because I can’t bother them with a text message again.

My OCD isn’t glamorous. It’s not clean.

It’s kind of messy, which always shocks people. Messy thoughts, messy feelings, messy mind.

Being diagnosed with OCD was a breath of fresh air. Up until then I lived a pretty lonely existence with my anxiety. People around me who also suffered from anxiety couldn’t understand my crazy thoughts. I felt ashamed and embarrassed by the images stuck in my mind. After all, would you really be comfortable with the fact your mind would think about your parents getting in a car accident and that’s all you could think about for hours? And that those thoughts often escalated into specifics.

Getting a diagnosis allowed me to take a step back and realize my thoughts weren’t just because I was a bad person—because I felt like a bad person a good percentage of the time. There’s such a guilt involved in the type of OCD I struggle with because we don’t want to imagine the things we get stuck on.

Sure, I would prefer not to feel like I have to call my husband 27 times exactly after he doesn’t answer the first. I would prefer it even more if that compulsion didn’t come after having vivid images of him having an affair in my mind for hours before I cave and call.

Getting this diagnosis though-it suddenly explained a lifetime of struggling.

I was able to put a name to these thoughts and compulsions. Guilt was not a necessary factor any longer. There was a real reason they existed. And that reason was a mental illness that had been roaming my mind for years. It wasn’t that I secretly hoped these images could come true, as one terrible psychiatrist mentioned. It was that my mind caught hold of one and it became my focus.

Suddenly, the me who found myself sitting in my moms room at 3am, having a panic attack because I read a single sentence on a Youtube forum and believed the world was about to end...that me was explained. She made sense. Well, as much sense as a mental illness can make.

Even with that acceptance though, even with the knowledge, my obsessive compulsive disorder feels very lonely.

Like I said, this isn’t what you see on television. The show Monk is probably the closest to my reality because he did have some fears that he had to do compulsions to help alleviate(but they never go away.) You don’t see in movies people who have these intrusive thoughts take over their mind until it’s all they can think about. More often, you see a woman washing her hands compulsively in the sink to get rid of the germs. You don’t see a mom of 6 who watches as one breathes, counting the seconds in between to reassure herself they are breathing normal.

You don’t see movies about a mom on the side of the road checking her tires(forgetting she doesn’t even know what she’s checking) to make sure they aren’t going to explode and burn them all in a fiery death.

I don’t have the kind of OCD you joke about. I’m not “like so OCD because my house needs to be cleaned a certain way.” I’m not “a little OCD” about how my clothes organized.

I don’t have the kind of obsessive compulsive disorder we often talk about. And that’s why I need to share this now. Because everyone out there who struggles with OCD the way I do-you deserve to feel safe as well. You deserve to live a life without guilt and shame over your thoughts.

If you’re out there living with the same kind of OCD I’m dealing with, please. Feel free to come talk to me. Get help! Find a trusted therapist who can help you manage what’s going on in your mind. You aren’t alone, sweet friends.

PTSD (1)

EN&MH: What I Wish My Loved Ones Knew About PTSD

*Out of respect to the kind humans who willingly shared their stories and words, some quotes are anonymous. I am very thankful for the people who shared their thoughts on PTSD*

Last week I shared an informational post on PTSD. This week I wanted to share it on a little more personal level. PTSD is something I live with daily, both for myself and a child. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a battle. If you’re not in it, you do not understand it.

I’ve found this lack of understanding isn’t about not caring. It exists because trauma and it’s continuous affect on your life do not exist for everyone. Our loved ones are not purposefully unaware, but in fact living in a current state where they simply do not understand. It’s hard for me as a person to know so many of my loved ones can’t understand-but it’s even harder when I know some do.

I’m putting together this post in hopes you can share it with anyone who is struggling with your post-traumatic stress disorder. We put a lot of focus on those living with mental illnesses, but it’s clear we do not live in bubbles as mentally ill individuals. Our health directly impacts those around us.

I hope this gives those of you out there loving others with PTSD a little insight for what they wish you knew.

 

Dear loved ones,

We wish you understood more about PTSD.

I wish you knew it wasn’t going away.

This is my forever. I don’t want it to be…my gosh I really wish it wasn’t. I don’t doubt the full healing power of God, but I’m also aware the jumping, the nightmares, the survival mode may be my forever. I’m not going to get over it.

I wish people would recognize my symptoms more often as symptoms.

I wish my loved ones knew that laughing when I jump at little sounds only makes me withdraw more.”

“That bad dreams aren’t just bad dreams–they’re memory traps you can’t get out of. Mine rarely flare up but when they do… I’ve punched and kicked at my sweet husband unknowingly more times than I care to admit.”

My husband is so supportive, but I wish this wasn’t his reality as well. I wish this wasn’t my kids reality.

But it is. And I am a lucky one. My husband acknowledges all the hard work and persistence I put into my day to day life.  That’s not the case for everyone.

“I wish my loved ones knew that some days I’m up for doing all the things and others I just want to lock myself in my room till my feelings pass”

Most days I have to battle through memories. It’s not always a simple healing.

As a professional counselor, I have spent 20 years working with clients diagnosed with PTSD. Many of them are some of the strongest people I know. They have survived the traumatic deaths of loved ones, horrific crimes, and betrayal often by those who were supposed to love and protect. Many times I wish I could meet their family members and encourage them to continue their journey beside them with patience and understanding. My clients have good days and bad days. Most in no way contributed to the trauma they are striving to overcome and daily fight a battle of the mind and sometimes the body. I would also encourage their friends and family to hold on to hope because there is a God that heals. They are not their trauma or the symptoms of it. They are beloved children of God often faithfully learning to love and trust again.” –Michelle Nietert

I really wish people understood it’s not just combat survivors who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

There are people out there dealing with it even though you don’t know the specific reason or trauma behind it.

“I wish that more people knew that almost all partners of sex/porn addicts who know about the addiction and have had to deal with the trauma of constant betrayals suffer from PTSD.”- http://www.hisdearlyloveddaughter.com/

Often, I find myself wishing people would accept that they may never know exactly what caused my trauma or the details of what I’m dealing with. As a person who kept this mostly secret for years, I still struggle with even saying the words, “I have post-traumatic stress disorder.”

There’s huge parts of me that feel more guilt ad shame for what I’ve put others through than depression surrounding the actual event. 

Who I was dealing with my trauma was never who I wanted to be.

I was diagnosed with PTSD 10 years ago. Back then, I was basically a shell of a person. Zombielike, going through the motions with over the top emotional outbursts. There were many times where I lashed out at my boyfriend at the time or parents. I wish they knew that I needed space. I wasn’t looking to be “fixed” – I was doing all the things I was supposed to do, medication, therapy, etc, but I needed time and space. I know, especially for my mom, she felt like she was going through everything I as going through, but her assuming my feelings or making it seem like we were going through the same thing just frustrated me more. I wish she had her own support at the time rather than talking to me.

I needed people to listen to what I was saying and asking for.

In fact, we haven’t had much of a relationship these last 5 years and I think a large part of that is because she didn’t get help also. Secondary PTSD is real, and to this day she throws her experience of that time into my face, which doesn’t help.
 
Today, it’s been 10 years, and while I definitely don’t struggle with PTSD in the same way, it’s definitely hard for my husband and his family to understand the person I was back then and how the aftershocks still effect my life today. Particularly how certain things can still re-trigger flash backs and how certain social exchanges can retrigger my mood swings or disinterest in things. My husband is actually really good with it responding to that part of me. But I wish his family would ask me what’s going on rather than assuming my feelings/thoughts or trying to fix me. I also wish they would just talk to me about that time in my life. I’ve brought it up at times (because it’s therapeutic for me to talk about it), but almost always the response is a bandaid, “well you’ve come so far and your so strong” followed by an immediate change in conversation. That hurts, it feels so rejecting. At this point, I welcome the questions and am vocal about welcoming the questions. If someone is nervous to ask questions, I would recommend they simply ask the person, “Are you comfortable talking about it? Is it okay if I ask questions?” -Rachel, (www.theconfusedmillennial.com )

Ask those questions.

You may be uncomfortable with our answers. There’s a real possibility you will not understand.

Offer to be a safe space anyway.

PTSD

EM&MH: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Hello my friends! I’m so proud that this is our fifth week for the Exploring Neurodiversity and Mental Health series. This entire concept has meant so much to something I am so passionate about: neurodiversity and mental health awareness and education. For week number 5, I want to share a subject very near to my heart, P.T.S.D. I know I have said this about other subjects, but PTSD is a daily struggle for me.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that develops after a traumatic event. This event can include combat, physical or sexual assault, natural disasters, terrorists attacks and much more. The person who develops PTSD can be the one experiencing the event or witnessing a loved one. Within the moment of a dangerous or scary event, the brain triggers a flight or fight reaction. For a person who develops PTSD, these feelings do not go away.

It’s important to acknowledge not everyone who suffers a traumatic event develops PTSD. The normal response to a traumatic event is to feel upset, nervous, shaky and emotional. If the symptoms last more than a month and interfere with daily life, the diagnosis is PTSD. A person can suffer from acute(short-term) PTSD or chronic or life long PTSD.

Doctors are researching to see if genes play a role in who develops PTSD after traumatic events. However, there are some things called resilience factors that can play a role in whether a person develops PTSD. A person who does not develop PTSD is not simply “stronger” but often has these factors in place to help them cope. They are:

  • Seeking out proper support after a traumatic event, whether from family and friends, a support group or a professional.
  • Having positive coping skills in place after an event.
  • Feeling comfort or pride in how one responds in a traumatic event.
  • The capability to respond well within the moment despite feelings of fear or unrest.
  • Neurobiological and genetic factors that researchers are exploring

With the research being put into the biological and genetic factors of PTSD, the hope is to someday be able to predict with more certainty the people who may develop PTSD in reaction to a traumatic event and prevent it.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

There are four main groups of symptoms when it comes to PTSD: avoidance, re-experiencing, mood symptoms, and reactivity.

The avoidance symptoms are pretty straight forward. They occur when a person purposefully avoids situations, places or thoughts that bring forward the memories of their trauma. An example of the avoidance is a person who was in a traumatic car accident no longer driving. While certain avoidance techniques, such as places, will happen with fairly little change to the daily life, others will not.

Re-experiencing the trauma can and usually does cause serious implications to a persons day-to-day life. This can include flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and distressing projecting. This state of re-experience can be triggered by people, places, scents or things. It is an unwelcome guest that can cause the trauma to be momentarily relived.

Mood symptoms include a disinterest in activities, feelings of guilt or blame, memory problems, and depression or anxiety. Memory problems often occur around the event. A person with PTSD may experience these symptoms before the event. They alienate a person from ones support systems.

Reactivity symptoms are often constant following a traumatic event. These include sleep disturbances, emotional outbursts, feeling anxious or on edge and being easily startled. Reactive symptoms can make it difficult to get through daily lives.

What are the treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder?

The two main treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder are medication and psychotherapy. Some use both treatments. PTSD can also co-exist with other disorders, such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Any coexisting disorder will have its own treatment.

Medication:

The most common kind of medication used to treat PTSD are antidepressants. Antidepressants can help the feelings of numbness, hopelessness, and worry or sadness. Medications can also treat specific symptoms. Some find the use of sleep aids helps with bad dreams and restless nights. Others use anti anxieties to treat the anxious symptoms.

Psychotherapy(Talk Therapy):

Talk therapy can be a one-on-one session or in a group. Therapy educates the person with PTSD how to properly manage their emotions. It also provides help with controlling symptoms and gives coping mechanisms for specific behaviors. When working with PTSD, another form of therapy that can help is exposure therapy. Exposure therapy puts someone with PTSD in controlled situations where they face their triggers.

While talk therapy may not end symptoms, it provides proper ways to deal with them. It can also help with coexisting disorders. Treatment of coexisting disorders can help alleviate PTSD symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT) is a common type of therapy a doctor will use for PTSD.

An important note regarding PTSD and foster or adopted children!  About one in every four foster youth will exhibit behaviors and symptoms that point towards post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of these children are exposed to violence or experience it themselves. It is important as a foster or adoptive parent to be extra aware the higher risk of PTSD. Treatment can help immensely; but it must be pursued.

When you are parenting or a family member to a child with PTSD, it is possible to struggle with “secondary PTSD.” This can be triggering your own traumatic history or it can simply be from the experience of hearing about your child or siblings traumatic experience. It is imperative that if a person is dealing with secondary PTSD, they find a way to treat it as well.

Next week I will be sharing things your loved ones with PTSD want you to know! 

Source|Source|Source |Source

Ladies-It's OK If You Don't Feel

Ladies-It’s OK If You Don’t Feel Strong

This past week, the world acknowledged and celebrated women on International Women’s Day. We all took a day out to recognize the strong women we know. I love this day-I love to thank the women in my life I know for being amazing role models, overcomers, and all around truly good people.

I’ve been blessed my entire life to be surrounded by strong women. I had a mother who had me in college and still went on to graduate, successfully help provide for our family and raise not only her five biological children, not only two adopted ones, but foster others and love so many through the school system. We have a Mema who can kick your bottom at an arm wrestling match while whipping up a dinner with the other hand and simultaneously being the most gentle human you’ve ever met. And then there was a Nana who showed what strength was beyond imagine as she kicked cancers butt and came back with the more grit and passion for life than before.

I have friends who have overcome trauma and struggles I cannot begin to fathom. Ones who have chosen forgiveness and grace over obvious and in my opinion, justified, revenge and anger. We know women who left abusive marriages, who have doctorates after being told they never could, and who have fought and won the war against mental illnesses, addictions, cancer, and more.

You could say I specialize in surrounding myself and my daughters with strong women.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was raised amongst them, my daughters will be too. My prayer for my daughters is for them to know the world can and SHOULD tremble at their feet. That they are capable of all things they put their mind to. I am so passionate that my kids are aware God created them for a special purpose, whether it’s to cure cancer or kiss booboos, and that they are strong in which they choose. Beauty pageants or crossfit challenges-I want them to always see their strength.

But I know how daunting that it can be-I know that we don’t always feel strong.

I struggle often with feeling like I’m not. Strong, that is. It’s so easy to see the failures, the weaknesses, the areas in life I’m less than spectacular. And I think many women, moms especially, feel the same way. We’re imperfect people and despite our strength to overcome some hardships and battles, we are often too close to each situation to see the magnificent strength it takes to beat them. 

I’ve said to a friend, “You were so strong to leave this relationship” and the response I got? “No, I was weak to stay in it so long.” How different our perspective is when on the outside looking in versus being the one in the story.

Sometimes people focus so intently on our perceived weaknesses, they forget how strong we truly are. I know I do.
I’m not saying this to induce a plethora of messages telling me how strong I am. I have plenty of people who tell me that anyway, and while I appreciate them, I hope this article doesn’t come across as just that. No, I want to share with all the women (and possibly men!) out there who sometimes feel weak a few ways I remind myself just how strong I really am in those moments.

Thank them when someone compliments your strengths and stop apologizing for your “weaknesses”

When someone tells you you are smart, strong, kind, resilient-say thank you. I know it’s so easy, so quick, to dealing with “Oh no I’m not.” But here’s the kicker-you probably are. Yes, yes, yes you are. Most people don’t simply say “Oh you look beautiful,” with the intent of lying to you or faking it. They say it because it’s true. So OWN YOUR STRENGTHS. When someone compliments them, nod. Say thank you. Tell them something you think is a strength they have back. Strong people have no qualms about complimenting another on their strengths.

On the flip side, stop apologizing for your weaknesses. This is one I do far too often and one I am trying so hard to overcome.
Surround yourself with people who validate you and build you up.  For example; y’all I can’t sing. CAN NOT. I’m talking a chorus teacher once told me to consider playing an instrument instead of being in chorus.

I’ve spent years at church apologizing for my inability to sing when in actuality…no one even notices! Unless I’m standing next to our minister of music or up front belting it out into a microphone…NO ONE NOTICES. When you apologize for your weaknesses it draws more attention to them while reminding you all the areas in life you don’t feel strong. So stop that! Right now! The people you surround yourself with shouldn’t mind the small and insignificant things you aren’t especially strong with. Which brings me to…

Surround yourself with people who validate and build you up. 

I’m not about the life where you only surround yourself with people who agree with you and let you do whatever you want while cheering you on. Accountability is something I think is necessary, so necessary that I’m currently writing a post about finding accountability partners in the church. No, I’m not talking about only hanging out with yes (wo)men.

I’m talking about spending your time with people who know your value and see your worth.

Who we are around builds up or destroys who we are. It’s really that simple. If you spend your time with people who actively pick apart your choices, who insult your strength, who refuse to acknowledge the effort you put into things…you will begin to believe those things are true about yourself. Be with people who build you up. Who tell you the strengths that you are forgetting. Who want you to know how truly worthy of love you are.

Keep a journal of all the reasons you are strong and able.

I was actually taught this in therapy when I was struggling with PPD. My therapist had me write down reasons I was a good mom and I kept this little book to look back on, as a way to reframe my thoughts before they got off the track and spun out of control. It is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Find a little journal and keep track of your strengths. When someone compliments you on one, write that in there. Write what you’ve overcome. Write all the things you’ve done that have proven those who doubt you wrong. Then keep this book somewhere where you can pull it out and look at it whenever you need the reminder.

Be okay with being weak, with failing, and with not always being able to do things.

The simple fact of the matter is this-we will not always be strong. There are some times in our lives we will be weak, we will feel weak, and we will struggle. Times will come when we aren’t able to succeed. Talents exist out there that we won’t have. I can’t do everything-can you? I’m not always kind, smart, perfectly made up with a bow on top. None of us are. At some point we need to sit back and be okay with the areas we are “weak” in or the ways we “fail.”

 If you don’t have a talent, that’s okay. As long as you have a love. I’m going to bring us back to singing. I love to sing worship songs. When I am home or in the car, I have them blasting and I am jamming along. I’m not winning any awards. But I love it. I enjoy it. If you enjoy doing something it’s okay to just enjoy it-to not be the star, to not have a God given talent, but to love doing it anyway.

Recognize the One who makes you strong.

For me, as a Christian woman, this is the most important one. I am not strong on my own and I will not succeed separate from God. He is the one who gives me strength through all things He has predestined in my life. When I am feeling weak, I often forget to pray. In the moment, I want to do it all, be it all, succeed at it all. I don’t want anything to get in the way of perfection and something really big already has-me. I will never be perfect. But possibly, even more importantly, I will never be strong without Him.

A favorite of mine in the Bible is Ephesians 3:17-19(NLT)

“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”
If you are feeling weak, take a moment to read those verses and recognize your roots must be in God’s love to keep you strong. Open your Bible and find verses that speak of strength in Jesus, from Jesus and with Him. Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you the passion and fearlessness He provides.
And finally, while leaning into God for strength, rely on others. We live in a world that is so focuses on independence equating strength, but that is not always the case. Lean on your brothers and sisters in Christ in those weak moments. Rely on them. Trust them with your strengths and your weaknesses as you grow totgether. I bet the more you rely on others, the smaller your weaknesses feel as they begin to fill in where you need it.

At the end of this post, I hope you know it’s okay if you don’t feel strong. But I also hope these tips can help you in those moments you’re doubting yourself; because I would bet if I were a betting woman, you are so much stronger than you feel.

 How do you remind yourself how strong you are when you don’t feel it?

ENMH Self Care Meetings

EN&MH: Self Care for Parents Before/During/After Meetings

Welcome back my friends. Exploring Neurodiversity and Mental Health is taking a step away from the informational side and leaning towards self care-this week focusing on self care for parents before and after diagnostic and school meetings!

I’ll be completely real and tell you the reason we’re jumping into a self care is because this Mama needs reminders as the week progresses. Friday we have a meeting with the school psychologist and Monkey’s team. We will be discussing findings and moving forward with further testing or accommendations. I shouldn’t be nervous at all! We have a basic idea of his needs, we have a great relationship with these people. But my anxiety has me over thinking, obsessing, and picking apart every little part.

We all know I deal with anxiety and intrusive thoughts from OCD. (Which, is obviously not a postpartum issue, but one I will live with forever-and probably have been since childhood.) However, these feelings have reminded me so many other parents out there feel like this! While I am blessed to have a background in education, many do not and these meetings with teachers and professionals can be scary and hard. This nervousness is not a “me only” sort of thing.

I’ve shared tips to get ready and what to expect for IEP meetings and parent teacher conferences before, but today I want to share some advice on self care for the parents. You guys need loving through this process too, both before and after the meetings.

Self Care Before:

  • Make sure everything is ready. There are a few things that you can prepare before the meeting. Writing any questions out will help remind you of what you want to discuss during the meeting. Researching your rights will give you a leg up(below I tell you why.). Having all te paperwork together before the meeting begins or even day of will keep you from stressing too much over it day of. I highly recommend having a folder at all times for any of your kids paper work, but that whole folder is not necessary every meeting.
  • Know your rights. I cannot stress this enough; as a parent you need to know your child’s rights. In the state of Massachusetts, they are mandated to give you a packet that detail these rights. Read it. Take full advantage of this packet and highlight, write out what you think isn’t being done, look up more information online. Your child has rights and if you know them, you are more capable of having their needs met.
  • Don’t forget to eat and drink water. This sounds so obvious, right? But it isn’t always. Sometimes meetings are at weird times in the day and you end up starving through it. Makng sure you’re well fed before going in takes away the distraction of being hungry or thirsty. It also can help settle your anxiety or worry if you have a full stomach and won’t feel hunger pains during.
  • Set up care for any younger children as soon as possible. Y’all if you’re like me…house full, ya feel? We are ever blessed my Mema babysits readily during the school day, especially since all our other babysitters are well…working as teachers! But even with how available my Mema tends to be, there’s always the possiblity she will have something else going on. Try and plan your younger kids care as early as possible, so your spouse and/or the child’s parent is able to come with you.
  • BRING SOMEONE WITH YOU. I know that this may not always be possible, but whenever you can, bring someone with you/ A second pair of eyes, a second pair of ears…a second person will catch all those things you may miss. You can create a plan of attack so you do not feel bullied to make a decision that is best for the school and not best for your child. Having a second person there is also such a relief for

Self Care During:

  • Bring in a water to drink. Sometimes the rooms are hot, sometimes they’re stuffy, other times it’s just plain old anxiety giving you dry mouth. No matter what it is, a water bottle can do a world of difference making you feel better.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask any questions. Ask what things mean, for them to repeat anything, why they want to do certain tests or services. Believe me when I tell you this: no education professional laughs at the caring and inquisitive parent in a meeting. We talk about the ones who act like they don’t care, the ones who don’t show up. Every so often they roll their eyes at the ones who are so certain they know better. But parents who show up to truly show up? Those ones we love.
  • Write everything down. Remembering all the information given to you is hard. Write down what is said and hold them to what they promise will be done! Writing things down can also help remind you at a later date exactly of what is said and what is supposed to be done.
  • Request something positive is said throughout the meeting. One of my favorite parts about my son’s team is that they truly adore him. Every single one at our last meeting had something GOOD to say about him…and I know that is not always the case. Your child’s team needs to be able to find positives in their behaviors and who they are. This is a non negotiable; there’s not a lot I share on this blog I will say is set in stone. This is one of those things. 

Self Care After:

  • Take time to talk it out before going back to work/parenting. I am a huge fan of unwinding after intense meeting, whether they are for school, funerals, court, or foster care review meetings. You need that moment to sit still, think about, and hammer out everything that just happened in your meeting. This can help you immensely when it comes to sorting through any emotions you may have about it.
  • Properly store all the paper work. Again, I am going to push: have yourself a folder for all your child’s education information and plans. Whether your child has a 504, an IEP, or neither yet, you must have a binder to keep it all organized. I haven’t(and probably will not, because #unorganizedtoafault) written about this but here is an article by Amanda Morin at Understood.org I find very helpful.
  • Do one thing that relaxes or rejuvenates you. Parents, caregivers…I have not said this enough. These can be long and grueling hours. Please, take time after to relax or rejuvenate your soul. Have a nap, enjoy that special coffee. Do not allow yourself to burnout fighting for your child’s rights because you are the NUMBER ONE advocate for your babies.

My sweet friends, this is a good fight you are fighting to provide for your children. Do not forget along the way to provide and care for yourself as well. You need it.