Tuesday, January 14, 2014

On motherhood and mental illness

“I feel like something bad is going to happen.”

“Don't say that, sweetie.” My mom would reply.

I would be perplexed. It was a feeling as though I knew what would happen next. A tumbly falling down feeling in my belly, like talking at the front of the class and peeing your pants and losing your new expensive winter coat the first day you take it to school. I wasn't sure if she didn't want me to say it because she felt it too, or because she didn't like what it meant. That I was broken. That I didn't know how to be happy; when everyone else was staying up late at slumber parties, I would fearfully creep off to sleep in a corner of the room, because not sleeping held an unmistakable fear of the devil, death, and horrible things that would happen to my family if I didn't close my eyes and fall asleep right then.

I think about these childhood anxieties a lot more now that I have children, and (not-so coincidentally) have been diagnosed with mental illness. I don't mean my kids have made me crazy, not clinically anyhow. But they made me seek out help, because I was scared when I felt differently about them.

I fear this legacy that I may have passed on to them. It's a thought that has only recently occurred to me, and like any parent I wonder to myself. What can I do to prevent it? And barring that, what can I do to prepare them? And perhaps most unhelpfully, what the fuck have I done?

I started to suspect I was suffering from mental illness in my early university years in Montreal, but part of me felt like my sadness was just me being romantic about my life. It had been a hard few years. My father was in the depths of substance abuse, my relationship with my mother was fractured, my ex-boyfriend had his first manic-depressive episode, and I was on my own for the first time ever.

Montreal is cold in winter. So cold that you can stay inside, huddled over your computer's cpu and no one notices that you haven't been outside in a while. I lived on chocolate soy milk and pasta. I was trying to be a vegetarian, probably so I could tell someone in a conversation and feel important and progressive, but that conversation never happened. I didn't talk to anyone. I went to my classes and I sat in the back. I didn't brush my hair. My clothes were old, and unwashed.

I hated myself and every single word that came out of my mouth.

When I look at it objectively, nothing was that bad. I was in a world-class city with lots of things to do. I was thinner than I am now, and by all rights fairly charismatic. I track this now as one of my first depressive episodes. Maybe it was situational, but it was also the first of many future incidents that looked and felt similar.

It wasn't until I was pregnant with my second child that I sought help.

I was about 8 months pregnant with my unexpected baby girl, and everything was going wrong. My husband and I fought constantly. My son had just broken his leg and was learning to walk agian. His temperament was difficult, as he was simultaneously adjusting to going to preschool for the first time. I was tired and sore, and having trouble walking. As I didn't know how to drive, this left me at home for most of the day. I started taking long naps. And sleeping in. And going to bed early. I started avoiding visits with family. I started staying upstairs in my bedroom while life went on along, in my view, perfectly fine without me. Dinners came and went. I stopped being hungry.

And then the baby kicked. And I hated it.

The feeling shocked me. When my son had kicked in my belly, I had always felt this twinge of happiness and pride. But this feeling. Annoyance? It wasn't right, and I didn't like it. So, I felt like I should tell my doctor at one of my frequent, end of pregnancy doctor's appointments. She sent me to a psychiatrist immediately, who diagnosed me with severe antenatal depression. She said I was resilient, though. She said I would make it through, because I had overcome worse. I wasn't really sure what she meant.

At first I thought maybe it was just the hormones. Women with a history of depression are more likely to suffer from pregnancy related mental illness, but some women without any history at all are struck, and I counted myself among their numbers. It was temporary. I was ok. Just like swollen feet and peeing all the time, this too would pass.

But an event like that does not come and go without rumination. It effected the whole family. We are talkers, and we talked about it. We thought about it and we talked some more. And as I came out of it, able to look up again as I walked down the street thanks to a dose of fluoxetine, I started to think about the feelings, the experience of my first 'diagnosed' depression.

And I realized that it wasn't new at all. It was a pattern, and it had been systematically effecting the pattern of my life for years.

I had to ask myself, what does that mean for me as a mom? Or even just as a person who is part of a family? Who am I to even be a mother, if I can't keep my brain together and I am at risk of falling into that pit again, regardless of my knowledge of my responsibilities?

It struck a fear into me that I have to admit hasn't gone away. Now, my daughter is one year old and I feel that darkness creeping in again. I'm not ignoring it this time, though. I'm not calling myself a romantic, or berating my self pity. I'm paying attention when news articles make me sadder than they should, when I'm mad just because I'm married and a mom and someone needs me to get them a cup of milk. Not just mad, but resentful. Like life is too fucking cruel and too hard to carry on living. When I feel that way, I know something is wrong. I have hope for a life where I can see it coming so clearly that I can head it off before it effects us too deeply as a family.

I don't want to be the one who teaches my kids that this is normal.

But maybe, I do.

I'd be lying to myself if I said that they were going to escape from my legacy of depression. It's such a scary thought, that at one point they'll be dealing with what appears to be an insurmountable bleakness inside of them. All I can do is show them that it isn't a bad thing, not judge myself too harshly, and explain what's going on as they become old enough to understand. I don't want to create a self-fulfilling prophesy: “mommy is depressed and you will be too.” but I also don't want them to feel that uncomfortable feeling that I did, where I wasn't sure whether my mom felt that same darkness too.

Because if they feel that way, I want them to know they aren't feeling it alone.

And that eventually, they'll come out the other side.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Return to writing

It's been a long time. A lot has happened, so much so that it's almost painful to read back on the old entries that I wrote. I'm not sure why. Maybe reading back on them will remind me of attributes of thankfulness and hopefulness that I'm trying so hard to grasp onto these days.

I finished most of my diploma in costume to find myself pregnant at the very end. The day after my last class, my little boy broke his femur in a freak accident and our world was turned upside down. As these things usually happen - there was no warning before our lives changed, there was no way to be thankful for the way it was before. The femur cast, known as a spica, was put on both of his legs up to his waist to stabilize his hips, and completely immobilized him. It's difficult to think and speak about, let alone write about. The cast was on for six weeks, and after that rehabilitation had to occur. My son has amazed me, as I don't think I could have ever imagined how resilient a 3 year old could be in such difficult circumstances. He learned to walk again, in tiny shaky little steps, and now we have to the joy of getting to see him run and jump around the house. It's hard still though, he has started preschool and though he enjoys it, is still trying to keep up with their motor skills.

The pregnancy has been equal parts good and bad. A second pregnancy is such a different experience. No one treats you like you're precious, or fragile. Life has to go on, and there are little people to take care of. The celebration feels lacking, too. No one seems excited. Maybe that's just me.

Perhaps it's that I'm remembering my pregnancy with Ender wrongly. I know that I felt curiosity about him, but did I feel love? The love I feel for him now is so accumulated that I could just be projecting it backwards onto my pregnancy. Maybe this feeling of ambivalence is partly that I haven't yet had a chance to fall in love with this little person. My little girl.

Yet, it's more than that, I know. Antenatal depression, they call it. It sounds awfully ominous for something that just makes me not leave the house, or finish books, or cook food. Something that just makes me more sensitive than usual to what people don't say. I feel guilty about it. Embarrassed. Like I should know better now that I'm as old as I am, and have so much to be thankful for. But the longer I've been pregnant the harder it has been to ignore the creeping darkness of my thoughts, and it was time to acknowledge that I needed help. It has been a hard year, and there's nothing wrong with admitting that I'm having a hard time keeping up to what all of the changes that have been thrust upon us mean for my plans and my future. I hope that I can figure out everything, to start over and make everything better for myself and my family. In the meanwhile, I think I'll try and write here more often again. It seems to help.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Way Back Playback

Every once in a while I happen across one of my old blogs. I read it out of curiosity and am never disappointed by what I find. The one that was in the one year span before I met Mike is a particularly good one. Things that I notice are all to a similar tune. I was so SO so SO self involved. Like, living in my own head to the extent that I could hardly even lift it to see the things around me. Half of the posts involve me complaining about having to get up before eleven. This should be tempered by the fact that I haven't slept in past eight thirty in two and a half years. Since it wasn't that long ago that I wrote the blog, I also remember writing some of the entries. I remember the way I skirted around some topics, leaving little signposts to jog my own memory, but no one elses. I would allude to the fact that I was tired, but not mention it was because I had been up all night arguing with my problematic boyfriend. I had that grace, at least.

I was also constantly trying to convince myself of my own happiness. "It's not always like this" I would write "my life is filled with light and colour and love." I don't think I really believed that, but in a way, writing things down always makes them feel true. Despite these lies, I was more honest back then, too. Something about being a mom tricked my reflex to self-improve that just wasn't there before. It didn't seem worth it. It didn't seem like something I would waste my time doing. I was who I was, and it made every moment with every person who was willing to take me as I was incredibly precious. I miss those connections now, as I try to become a picture of what a mother 'should' be, and avoid the judgement of others. While it may not be genuine, it is for the sake of my child who has no say in whether his mother is socially acceptable or not.

Of course, some things never change. I am still the romantic that I once was. I still watch movies and picture myself living la vie boheme again. Living in Paris, or New York, or L.A. or a cabin in the woods. I want all of these things, and none of them. I miss Montreal, and the person I once was that had time to think and dig deep within herself for Truth and Beauty and What Has Been Repressed. I despise her, too, and am glad to be rid of her, and the people that liked what she represented. But I don't regret anything, and I am so happy that the twisted road lead me to who and where I am today.

And so, I will leave you with a way-back playback of the good old days:

I'm at the doctor's office, trying to enact a retrospective-type perspective on the present. It's no easy task, because I don't know how time will make me look back on this moment. I may be just as jaded as I am now, decrying the bitchy secretary who I hung up on earlier in the day. Laughing at my vanity, as I sink further into the chair, wearing my toque in 20 plus degree air inside, just to hide the current condition of my skin. I may look back fondly, as the time when I had XYZ. But I don't know what I'll lose, or what will become more precious with time. I don't know if I'll miss the taste of jolly ranchers, or using my computer in public places stealing wireless internet, or the sidelong glance every man in the room gave me when I walked in. I may just be filled with regret, neither sad nor happy. A wish that I would have done something, or everything, a little differently.

So what can we ascertain from this, if we wish to live without regret (as I obviously do, and you do too if you know me and I've deemed you a decent human)?  Well, that we should respect what comes our way, firstly. That we should appreciate the fickle nature of our bodies and our surroundings. That we should look at one moment with a schizophrenic flurry of emotions, both happy and sad, positive and negative. We should realize that regret, like guilt, is pointless. Regret is guilt that has been left to ferment, rise, and become something even less fixeable. Guilt can be tossed aside with one decision, whereas years of regret are far more difficult to assuage with such resolution.
I don't think I regret much, and therefore I can deduce that this pointless little moment in time that I wont' remember save for this blog entry, will not be regretted either. More likely it will be missed. The hard angles will be softened by my nostalgia, and I'll tell someone; I used to live in Montreal...

It seems sad that Montreal must be added to the litany of cities and towns I've inhabited, but it must be done. I am a nomad, at heart.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The salty soil, they say, is at fault here for the tiny trees that are one hundred years old but never grow larger than saplings. The salty air makes wood rot and paint peel, and faces age before their time. The humidity in summer has a sting of salt, a taste around the mouth of tears, or sweat.

After we returned from our journey, Ender and I took a walk in this salty air. The humidity and the silence gave a sense of being inside an enormous hallway. My neighbours, forced out to the step, glistening with sweat and trying to keep cool, take furtive sips from a flask passed lightly from fingertip to fingertip. All floats in this heavy air. Strains of ukelele make their way down the street, saying "Sleep-sleep-sleep." Ender's head bobs and falls, taken over by the salt-magic, the pull of the ocean, of home. His tiny hands relax upon his lap, open, offering.

I pick him up from his stroller, his head falls heavily against me and I steady myself on the wooden shingles of our home. The new paint has begun to peel, as though the joy from this house had caused the shingles to burst and ripple.  I walk as smoothly as I can up the stairs, each step a tiny creak, "Sleep-sleep-sleep." Upstairs, my husband is napping, and I place our son in his bed alongside ours. Salt facilitates electric conduction. Between the two of them, there is an unconcious connection. They each roll to face one another, faces slack and arms outstretched.

I make my way downstairs, slow steps that feel like gliding. Each movement saying, "sleep-sleep-sleep".

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Flea Markets

We went to the flea market today. I used to love flea markets. All of these objects, out of time, out of place. Every single thing was purchased by someone once, seen as imoportant enough to pay for and take home. Even if its home ended up being in the bottom of a drawer, not to be seen again until a momentous occasion: a move, a renovation, a new piece of furniture, or a death. I used to delight in this. Now, as I pick through chipped figurines and stained plastic kitchen appliances, I am only reminded of how many things I own that I don't need. But there is a culture here, the flea market is more than just buy and sell. People know each other, there is a comfortable hum of familiarity. They come to buy things just to sell at their own table. And so, there are some objects that will remain in the flea market circuit endlessly.

When I get home, my eye is more critical. I look at my possessions like a shopper, and see that the only reason I keep some things are for the things they remind me of. Each book that I have read once, and never will again, is held onto because I remember where I bought it and when I read it. It is not intrinsically valuable, but I cannot bear to part with it. It reminds me of who I am, and what it took to get here.

I wonder about people who lead those aesthetically clean, design driven lives. I suspect white walls and a vinyl couch would cause me to forget myself.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

the weather

I have decided, in the interests of my mental health, to stop checking the weather online. At all. What good does it do anyone, really? What kind of activity is it, to check the weather? One goes on, sees that it might rain, or be sunny. Then we feel preempretively happy or sad, all the while knowing that it could be completely wrong, so to cancel plans because of potential rain is really just a signifier that you didn't really want to do that thing anyway.

It's not worth it.

Anyway. It is the summer now, or so I'm told between rainstorms. As soon as a sunny day hits, I dash outside to the yard with Ender and we garden and talk about bugs and worms, and chase bumble bees. We walk aimlessly. In all this, I am trying to take better care of myself. I quit smoking in the new year, and quit coffee a month ago. I am avoiding gluten, which is apparently the secret ingredient which makes everything taste good. I miss all of these things, but have begun to really appreciate the energy and general well being that eating well affords me. I think once you've passed the age of that anesthetizing starry eyed syndrome that early adulthood affords most, more corporeal concerns come to the fore. When I feel good, I am a better mom, wife, etc. And can walk, and enjoy these glimpses of summer that we have received.

Currently, I'm st home taking care of my little boy and continuing to learn/improve my craft. I designed and drafted and sewed my mothers wedding dress, which turned out lovely and hope it fits well. Knitted my first sock, which also the first thing I ever knit from a real pattern. They follow an old world war one sock pattern that would have been used by women at home to ship socks to the boys abroad.I've also been beading, which has really become a lost decorative art, and I'm glad to be learning more about it. Ender is taking swim lessons with me as well. He begs to go, but once we take him there, he seizes up repeats "no no no" whenever the instructor tries to get him to move. Small progresses have been made, though, he kicks his feet, jumped in the water, and blows bubbles. I'm really enjoying the time we sound there, watching my little boy being challenged and dealing well with being a little out of his comfort zone.

Mike and I made an effort to be more social lately and it has been a verifiable success. We are making ourselves go out once or twice a week so that we stop being such home bodies, and it has been a lot of fun. Sometimes I just want to sit on the couch and watch old episodes of True Blood and surf facebook and knit, but forcing myself to go out always ends up making me feel better, and never worse.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The return to the maritimes....

My son, who is almost but not quite two, has been on a plane seven times in his short life. The first time was a trip to Calgary when he was three months old. He slept through the entire flight, which I remember being somewhere between five to seven hours. He breastfed intermittently while I held his little hand and he snoozed happily away. The second time, we had gone to Halifax to house shop. He slept for some of both flights, also peeking his head over the seats to stare at a little kid behind him. He was about fourteen months old. This last flight, there was very little sleeping and a steady stream of babble. Ender wrestled both me and his dad, frantically pointing out the window at the planes, trying to mash the flight attendant call button, giggling at the stream of air that he opened in the ceiling. The tiny televisions behind the seats were of no help, as he doesn't understand tv is for staring at. All in all, travelling with a toddler is oddly energizing. It makes you feel like you can take on the world, and you certainly don't need a book. It helps that Ender clearly enjoyed the sensory experience of flight this time, as he hooted during takeoff and buzzed during landing. I kissed his rosy little cheeks as we set our course back to Nova Scotia, home, and our regular everyday lives.

The trip was a refreshing change of highs and lows. We laughed and cried, as is appropriate for visits with family members and long held friends. We had a chance to head out to the city on several occasions, though we spent the majority of our time in Etobicoke with Mikes parents. Ender basked in the attention of his grandparents and multitudinous loving aunties and uncles, blood related and otherwise. I feel very grateful to be so loved. Probably I dont deserve it.

I had a chance to go fabric shopping while we were in toronto as well, which was great. The fabric selection in halifax is just dismal, so I did the best I could, and I think I made some good selections. No point in buying any old polyester; I bought unbleached linen, checked silk duppioni, heavily embroidered cotton and a stiff black silk organza.

We watched, amazed, as Enders language made leaps and bounds during our trip. Words and names all came easily to him and a constant smirk of self satisfaction was on his face. "bay-bee" he said, pointing at himself, "bay-bee done down" his way of saying he was both finished and ready to get going. Along with self expression comes a belief that all reactions should be immediate, and with this he is an unforgiving taskmaster. All of us must learn patience in this thing.

I shall wrap up here, for now. Very tired and looking at a full day of catchup tomorrow, as I did not keep up on my homework as I should have on this week off. Till next time...