Reflections of a New Mother


Six weeks ago today baby Rachel entered this world!  So much has happened in those six weeks, so in a way it seems like a long time, yet in another way it seems like no time at all.  I know all new parents say this but it really is hard to imagine my life without Rachel now that she is here.

The last two days have been pretty rough (although the past two nights have been great), so I thought it would be therapeutic to share some of my reflections on motherhood thus far.me-and-rachel-penguin

  1. Being a mom is incredibly hard.  I always knew it would be; I was never naive enough to think this would be a walk in the park or all fun & joy.  Of course not.  But you just can’t understand how truly difficult it is until you do it.
  2. Motherhood is full of extreme emotions.  On any given day I cycle between extreme love, joy, devotion, fear, anxiety, frustration, & a whole gamut of other emotions.  This is all totally normal of course but it is exhausting at times to feel like an emotional yo-yo.
  3. That being said, the extreme joy & love truly do make up for all the more “negative” emotions.  I always worried that moms said that just because they felt they had to but it really is true.  Trust me, I’ve had moments when I’ve wondered if I made a mistake in becoming a mom.  And I’m sure I’ll have more of those moments for the rest of my life.  But the point is those are just moments.  They don’t last forever.  me-and-rachel-fire
  4. Taking care of yourself is absolutely imperative to surviving motherhood.  This is just one of many reasons that being a single mom (or dad) is clearly not how parenthood was designed.  I’ve quickly learned that it’s essential that I eat a reasonably healthy diet, drink plenty of water, spend some time outside, listen to music, take a shower, read a little here & there, & generally do all the things that help keep me sane.  My mantra these days is “You cannot pour from an empty cup.”  In other words, Rachel needs a healthy, sane mommy & that means I need to take care of myself every bit as much as I’m taking care of her.  Which feeds right into my next point.
  5. Being able to take care of myself is largely dependent on my husband’s support.  I know every mom says this but once again it is so true: I’ve never loved my husband more than when I see him with our daughter.  When he changes her diapers, pushes her stroller, wears her in the baby carrier on his chest, & cuddles & kisses her my heart truly melts.  Furthermore, when he does the dishes or the laundry or cooks me dinner I want to kiss his feet.  Parenthood is definitely meant to be a two person job.  I never doubted that but now that I’m living it I can attest that it is 100% true.daughter quote
  6. Moms are the most giving people in the world.  I can’t say thank you enough to all the wonderful ladies who have reached out to me for encouragement & support over the past six weeks.  Y’all know who you are & you’re all amazing.  I hope someday I can encourage other new moms the way so many of you have done for me.  Seriously, THANK YOU!
  7. Breastfeeding is hard.  Like woahhhh.  To be honest, it’s actually not been physically painful the way I feared it would be.  However, it is still very demanding, both mentally & physically.  While I was pregnant I set two breastfeeding goals.  My ultimate goal was/is to make it a full year, but I will be perfectly satisfied if I make it to six months.  My minimum goal was to make it to six weeks, & I’m happy to say that as of today I’ve fulfilled that goal.  Woohoo!  I haven’t made it this far without a TON of support & encouragement though.  It’s truly been a team effort in so many ways!  There have been so many days when I’ve wanted to throw in the towel & I’m sure there will be more of them, but knowing I’ve already made it this far will hopefully continue to encourage me on the difficult days.breastfeeding-cartoon
  8. Being a mom with anxiety & OCD tendencies is hard.  Thank goodness for a fantastic husband, a great mom, some dear friends, a wonderful therapist, & Zoloft.  And music.  (I switched from Prozac to Zoloft about 3 weeks ago at the suggestion of Rachel’s pediatrician because Zoloft is considered better for breastfeeding.)  Even if you don’t have a history of anxiety or depression or any other mental health issue, don’t be afraid to seek help as a new mom.  I think EVERYONE could benefit from a few sessions with a good therapist & no one more so than us frazzled, sleep-deprived new mommies.
  9. As much as I love Rachel now & am enjoying many things about the newborn/baby stage, I still very much look forward to her being a little older.  I know most moms say they miss the baby stage & often yearn for those days, but I seriously doubt that will ever be me (at least not often).  I’ve always said I prefer older kids & teens, & I still think that is true for me.  Trust me, I am not rushing anything.  I am enjoying (most) of where we are right now.  But there is a part of me that still can’t wait for the day when I can have real conversations with her, even about the hard stuff like death, sex, war, etc.  Yes, I’m crazy, I know, but I really do look forward to that day.  I also can’t wait to take her on hikes & to concerts & share the joy of all of those things with her.  It might make me weird, but I don’t think it makes me a bad mom to say that I will probably love being a mom even more as she gets older.motherhood-quote
  10. There is absolutely no room for comparison in motherhood.  I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again: motherhood is not a competition.  Some moms breastfeed, some use formula, some do both.  Some moms make beautiful baby books, some don’t.  Some moms decorate a perfect nursery, some don’t.  Some moms co-sleep, some don’t.  Some moms wear their babies, some don’t.  And some babies will sleep through the night or learn to walk/talk faster than others.  The point is none of these things makes one mom better than another.  We are not competing against anyone.  Some moms seem like they have it all together while others of us are just happy we took a shower & did a load of laundry today.  As for me, I’m never going to be the mom who pretends she has it all figured out.  I think the world could benefit from more candidness.  The truth is my house is frequently a little messy (& it was like that long before I became a mom; I just have a better excuse now), I’ve shaved my legs a grand total of twice since I gave birth, & sometimes I hate breastfeeding.  I’m not “perfect” but I’m doing the best I can, & that’s all any of us can do.  At the end of the day if mom & baby are healthy & happy that’s all that matters.  Everything else is just details.
  11. Being a mom really is the best thing I’ve ever done.  End of story.  🙂

I’m not sure this song totally fits with the post but I discovered it last week & I’m in love with everything about it so I’m going to share it anyway.  (Yes, I’m still listening to “heavy” music.  Thankfully Rachel seems to like it!)  Check out the lyrics below:

I’ve always been a fan of the night life
‘Cause it’s the only life I had
Expressing my mind with paper & a pen playing my guitar
‘Till my fingers bled on the carpet
Maybe I wasn’t like all the normal kids
I was born just a little bit different
I tried to fit in, I got sick of it
I tried to fit in, I got sick of it
You say I’m just a loser in the background
I can never seem to get it right
But I’m learning my worth is more than your word
You told me I would back out, I would break down
I’m not even putting up a fight
But I’m learning my worth is more than your word
It wasn’t easy being rejected by the thing I wanted so bad
To be accepted, to be wanted
To wake up & say this is gonna be a good day
Maybe I wasn’t like all the normal kids
I was born just a little bit different
I tried to fit in, I got sick of it
I tried to fit in, I got sick of it
You say I’m just a loser in the background
I can never seem to get it right
But I’m learning my worth is more than your word
You told me I would back out, I would break down
I’m not even putting up a fight
But I’m learning my worth is more than your word
More than your word
I was born a little bit different
I was born a little bit different
I was born just a little bit different
I was born a little bit different
I was born a little bit different
You say I’m just a loser in the background
I can never seem to get it right
But I’m learning my worth is more than your word
You say I’m just a loser in the background
I can never seem to get it right
But I’m learning my worth is more than your word
You told me I would back out, I would break down
I’m not even putting up a fight
But I’m learning my worth is more than your word
I got sick of it
I got sick of it
I tried to fit in, I got sick of it
I tried to fit in, I got sick of it

Anxiety, Plane Tickets, & Flying Solo


I did something tonight that might not seem like a big deal to most people but was a big deal for me: for the first time in my 20-some years of life, I bought a plane ticket.  By myself.  With no help from my husband or anyone else.  AND I did it WITHOUT HAVING AN ANXIETY ATTACK.

When my husband & I went to Montana last Fall, he bought the plane tickets (actually I paid for them I think, but he did all the work of finding & selecting the flights).  Ditto for when we went to Boston the next month for a wedding.  Furthermore, every other flight I’ve taken in my life was planned by someone else; thus, I was never involved in the tedious process of finding & obtaining tickets.  All I had to do was show up & follow someone else who knew what they were doing.airplane

Not only did I find, select, & buy the plane ticket for this trip by myself, but this will also be my first time flying by myself.  I know for most people my age this whole scenario probably seems like no big deal.  But when you have anxiety like I do, even something as “simple” as buying a plane ticket, particularly for a solo trip, can induce extreme anxiety, the kind that most people associate with taking a major exam or giving a speech.  (Oddly enough, neither of those activities has ever been all that nerve-wracking for me, with the exception of the NCLEX, although I only had major anxiety about that the day I actually took the test).

In any case, as “silly” as it may seem, one of the most beneficial things I’ve learned from a dear, dear friend of mine who is bipolar is that, particularly when you have a mental health issue, even something as “small” as mild anxiety, you have to learn to celebrate even the minor victories.  You have to learn to recognize when you’ve reached a milestone in your recovery, if you will.  I hate to use the word recovery because I don’t believe my anxiety is something I need to or can “recover” from.  It’s not an illness, like the flu or strep throat, mostly because it’s not something that can be cured with a week’s worth of medication with only a small chance of recurring later.  But my anxiety IS a disease that I have to learn to manage, just like many other folks have to learn to manage diabetes or heart disease or any of a myriad of other chronic conditions.hello-my-name-is-anxiety

In my case, I’ve realized that buying a plane ticket by myself for a trip I’ll be taking by myself WITHOUT HAVING AN ANXIETY ATTACK is indeed a victory.  It’s an accomplishment, just as much as is giving a successful speech, acing an exam, winning a game, or any other more commonly recognized achievement.  A year ago, before I started taking Prozac, I can tell you without any doubt that this would not have happened.  So this is progress for me for sure.anxiety meds

As I was telling a friend at work last week, the longer I’ve been in therapy, the more I’ve realized that my anxiety has very deep roots.  In other words, this is something I’ve been struggling with more or less my entire life.  It’s probably the major reason I wasn’t a very happy child.  Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t depressed or suicidal or anything like that.  But I just never remember experiencing that carefree existence that most children seem to enjoy.  I still feel guilty for that sometimes because my parents were & are wonderful people who did so much to ensure that I had a healthy, happy home.  But I’m slowly beginning to understand that it was my own anxiety that prevented me from fully embracing life for so many years.  And that wasn’t my parents’ fault.  Or mine.  It’s just the way it is.anxiety charlie brown

The trouble is that when anxiety is something you’ve battled for so long, it’s very easy not to realize that it isn’t normalAfter all, the only brain you know is your own!  This is why it took me over 22 years to realize that maybe, just maybe, the constant swirl of anxiety in my brain wasn’t normal.  Better yet that it wasn’t how things HAD to be for me.  I look back now on my college years & I so regret not seeking help sooner.  It’s not that I didn’t have a good time & create lots of wonderful memories.  I absolutely did.  But I also know it could have been much better.  I’m also very aware that on the outside I probably seemed like I had it all together . . . & in a way I did.  I graduated with a 4.0 GPA, I maintained my relationship with my high school boyfriend (now husband), I passed the NCLEX on the first try, & I got married & started my first nursing job within 3 months of graduating from college.  Outwardly, I suppose I was the definition of “put together.”

A very simplified explanation of anxiety . . . but it made me laugh.

A very simplified explanation of anxiety . . . but it made me laugh.

But on the inside my brain was a wreck.  No wonder I struggled with high blood pressure for a while!  My mind, & subsequently my body, was on constant overdrive for so many years.  As my husband describes it, I had this endlessly “chattering squirrel” in my head that was always, always, always thinking, thinking, thinking!  Despite what many people think, having anxiety isn’t just spending too much time pondering the “what ifs?” of life.  It’s so much more than that.  It’s a brain that never stops, that plans everything, & perhaps more than anything just doesn’t know how to shut up & relax.  And a brain that can’t relax is a brain that will eventually burn out.anxiety

This is why I’m so incredibly grateful I took the advice of a friend & sought help: first through therapy & eventually by adding medication (Prozac).  Through a combination of the two, I have come to an even greater appreciation of so many things in life that I’ve always enjoyed but that I can now enjoy even more & thus utilize to further relieve my anxiety: music, books, my relationship with my husband, & so much more.

Trust me, there are still days when I struggle with my anxiety.  There are times when the idea of interacting with anyone other than my husband or closest friends seems like torture.  But those days are much fewer & further between now.  And even when they happen, I have the foresight to know they won’t last forever.  And that one bad day doesn’t doom me to a bad week, month, year, or life.bad day quote

I’ve wandered a lot in this post.  But, as I’ve done so many times before, I want to encourage anyone who is struggling with anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness to seek help.  Admitting that you need help is NOT a weakness.  Let me repeat that: needing help is NOT a weakness.  Rather it is the first & perhaps most important step in creating a better, more peaceful life for yourself.MentalHealth-HeadGraphic-250px

Looking back on my childhood, adolescence, & even into college, there were so many signs that the anxiety I faced on a daily basis was not normal.  But they were mostly things that only I knew about (for example, the hours I spent awake at night off & on for years & years thinking about the Holocaust & how horrifying that was) . . . My point is that I didn’t realize how bad things were until I got the courage to ask for help.  And now that I’ve gotten help & my anxiety is so much better managed, I honestly can’t believe I struggled alone in silence for so long.  But I suppose sometimes we have no idea how dark the night is until we see the light of day.  I’ve found that light, & there are days when it is dimmer & days when it is brighter, but I think I am now even more grateful for the light since I know what it was like to live in the dark for so long.

Whatever you're facing, you are not alone.

Whatever you’re facing, you are not alone.

If you’re living in the dark of anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness, please don’t suffer alone.  Get help.  Life CAN be better.  I am living proof.

America’s Mental Health Crisis


I’ve had several different topics up for consideration on the blog this week, but in the wake of the tragic suicide of Robin Williams I’ve decided to continue my focus on mental illness.  As our country, indeed our world, tries to come to terms with the paradox that a comedian as brilliantly talented as Robin Williams could suffer from depression so severe that he would end his own life, I hope that we will each open our minds to understanding the true gravity of mental illness.

Every few years when a celebrity commits suicide or dies of a drug overdose, our society gives a cursory nod to mental illness & the same old platitudes are rolled out over & over: “Anyone can suffer from depression.”  “Get help.”  “Don’t suffer alone.”  While all of these things are true, the sad reality is that true change never happens.  The same old stigmas against mental illness persist which only contribute to the negative cycle of these diseases, making it difficult for people to even seek treatment.  For those who overcome the stigma & do seek treatment, the lack of adequate resources continues to make finding & continuing treatment a true challenge.

robin williams

To understand the gravity of mental illness, one must first understand the prevalence of the problem.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, some 18.6% of adults in the US suffer from some form of mental illness.  Read that figure again: 18.6%.  That is almost 20% of the population!  (Please note this does not even include substance or alcohol abuse.)  Anxiety & depression make up the largest percentage of this figure with schizophrenia representing about 1% of the US adult population & bipolar disorder about 2.6% of the US adult population.  While these figures may seem low, consider that out of every 100 people you know, at least one or two of them are probably suffering from one of these serious disorders.  Regarding anxiety & depression, the NIMH reports that almost 7% of the adult population in the US has suffered at least one major depressive episode in the past year & that about 18% of the adult population has suffered a major anxiety episode in the past year with a life-time prevalence as high as almost 29%.  Furthermore, it is estimated that as much as 25% of homeless people are suffering from a severe mental illness.  Shockingly, suicide is the tenth most common cause of death for adults in the US, according to the CDC.

I do not mean to overwhelm you with numbers & statistics, but my point here is that mental illness is extremely common.  It does not discriminate against age, race, gender, religion, wealth, intelligence, or talent.  ANYONE can suffer from mental illness & many do.  For some people mental illness is transient & with proper treatment they may never suffer from it again (this is more common with SOME cases of anxiety or depression).  But for others it is a chronic condition that will persist throughout their lifetime (for example, bipolar & schizophrenia are rarely, if ever, transient conditions).

bipolar-quote

Sadly very little is understood about the causes of mental illness.  Certainly most doctors & scientists would agree that mental illnesses are affected by both nature (genetics) & nurture (environmental factors).  But for the most part we are just treating the symptoms with mental illness because we really don’t know the exact cause.  There is little research in this field so sadly there are not as many advances in treatment as one would hope.

As I mentioned earlier, the accessibility to treatment for mental illness is sorely lacking in this country.  Not only are there far too few psychiatric facilities for the seriously ill, but access to outpatient therapy is far from adequate.  For example, without insurance my therapist would cost almost $200 a session, a price I could not afford to pay more than a few times a year & a price that would be absolutely prohibitive for many Americans.  Prior to the 2008 passing of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, more commonly known as the mental health parity act, insurance companies were not required to provide equal access to mental health treatments.  Even after this, many insurance companies provided minimal access to mental health treatment.  With the passing of the ACA, we can only hope that mental health services will finally begin to expand & that greater accessibility will finally take shape.  The sad reality is that those suffering from mental illness, particularly severe mental illness, are more likely to have difficulty holding down a steady job which translates into being uninsured & unable to afford the treatment they so desperately need.  It’s a vicious cycle that often never ends.

Despite the prevalence of mental illness, Americans have been slow to understand the gravity of these disorders.  The stigma against mental illness is real.  Far too often those suffering from anxiety or depression are accused of “just not being thankful enough for God’s blessings in their lives,” showing a clear misunderstanding of these disorders.  Or how often have you heard someone casually scoff that a person who is a bit moody or difficult to handle “must be bipolar”?  Indeed the lack of knowledge of mental illness has led a great deal of the population to confuse schizophrenia with multiple personality disorder, the latter of which is actually an extremely rare condition.  I for one grew up thinking schizophrenia was the same as “split personality” when in reality schizophrenia is a completely different, though just as serious, disorder.  Again a lack of understanding of mental illness leads to a great deal of fear surrounding these conditions.  How many times have you read a novel or seen a movie in which a serial killer or some other heinous villain is depicted as being schizophrenic, psychotic, or otherwise mentally ill?  Indeed, after almost every mass shooting or bombing, the accusations of bipolar, schizophrenia, & general mental illness are thrown out by every media outlet.  Once again this feeds into the fear of mental illness.

mental illnes quote

The reality is that research has consistently shown that those suffering from mental illness, particularly severe mental illness such as bipolar & schizophrenia, are actually far more likely to be the VICTIMS of violence, be it abuse, rape, or murder, than to be the perpetrators of such violence.  But this is NOT the picture depicted by the media, whether in response to real-life tragedies or in books & films.  Tragically, even within the healthcare field, there is a great deal of prejudice against mental illness.  Far too often the moment a nurse or doctor sees a mental health diagnosis, an eye-roll ensues & the patient is viewed though a considerably different lens than someone without such a diagnosis.  What I’ve found in my own practice as a nurse is that patients who are actually mentally ill, if treated properly, are in fact no more difficult to care for than anyone else.  While I’ll be the first to admit that I feel ill-prepared to handle patients in acute psychosis, in general I’ve found that mentally ill patients do not deserve the negative stereotypes so unfortunately assigned to them.

My point in writing all of this today is to help people understand that mental illness is extremely common, but it’s not something of which we should be afraid or ashamed.  Though the treatments available are far from perfect, they can & do make a tremendous difference.  If you’re looking for a personal perspective, I am happy to report that I am already feeling significantly better since starting my own anti-anxiety medication just a week ago.  With a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy with my therapist, regular saturation in music & other such relaxing activities, & now Prozac, I can honestly say my anxiety is becoming more & more controlled.  While I have no idea what it’s like to suffer from a severe mental illness, I do know that having my anxiety better-controlled is greatly contributing to my quality of life.  But I couldn’t say that if I hadn’t sought treatment last year (first through therapy & now additionally with medication).

Furthermore my hope is that after reading this you will become more aware of your own prejudices against mental illness.  We’re all guilty of them at times.  Having a dear friend who is bipolar has radically changed how I view mental illness, as have my own struggles with anxiety.  What I’ve learned is that mental illness is just one aspect of a person; it doesn’t define them.  No one chooses to be mentally ill just as no one would choose to have diabetes or heart disease or cancer.  I’ve also learned that sometimes just being a friend & lending a supportive hand & a listening ear is one of the greatest things you can do for someone suffering from mental illness.

I am not my mental illness

 

As former NJ governor Richard Codey stated, “For too long we have swept the problems of mental illness under the carpet…and hoped that they would go away.”  But the reality is that these problems are not going away & probably never will.  But if our society can decrease the stigma against mental illness & increase our understanding of these conditions, we can offer more hope to those suffering.  Remember, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  Be an advocate for proper understanding & treatment of mental illness.  Stand up to those around you who propagate negative, harmful stereotypes against the mentally ill.  The grim situation of the mentally ill in this country will never change until our attitudes about mental illness change.

Most importantly, if you’re reading this & you feel like you might be suffering from a mental illness of any sort, I hope you’ll have the courage to get help.  The world can be a cruel place for the mentally ill, but nothing is worse than suffering in silence when help really is available.  To those who are lucky enough to not suffer from mental illness, open your eyes & your mind to those hurting around you.  Don’t diminish their disease by telling them it’s not real or they’re just looking for pity.  Encourage them to seek proper treatment & be that listening ear when they need it.  You never know when you might save a life by doing something so simple.

mental illness not contagious

 

Statistics & other information found at:

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/Statistics/index.shtml

http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/Mental_Illness.pdf

The February Depression


Is it just me or does anyone else think February is the most depressing time of the year?  I’ve felt this way for many years & I think there are several logical reasons for it.  By the time February rolls around winter weather has been solidly in place for a good 3-4 months, depending on the climate where you live.  Even the hardiest of us get tired of the wind & cold after a while.  I don’t know about y’all but the red dry skin on my face that is now actually quite painful is begging for a dose of spring warmth & sunshine ANY TIME NOW.  (And I consider the winter here to be quite mild compared to what I got used to while living in the mountains during college.)  Additionally winter is usually a time in which most people do not take vacations or do anything all that exciting & adventurous, unless of course you’re into winter sports like skiing & snowboarding, which I most definitely am not.  Furthermore, by the time February comes around, the excitement of Christmas & New Year’s has long since passed while the advent of spring still seems much too far away.  All in all, it’s a pretty bleak month.  And I don’t know about those of you reading this, but I am the type who feels GUILTY for being saddened by all of this, even though I realize it’s perfectly normal to feel a little “down about life” at this time of year.  Argh.

Another theme that’s been crossing my mind a lot lately is the feeling that everyone else’s life is more exciting than mine.  Is it just me or does anyone else feel this way?  I’m quite sure I’m not alone on this one.  As much as I hate myself for doing this, I often find myself comparing my lifestyle to my friends & acquaintances, particularly those who are about the same age as me.  The trouble I run into is that on the one hand the average person my age in my hometown has kids (whether married or not) & thus leads a very different lifestyle than I do.  A fair amount of folks my age back home are married but plenty aren’t also.  Some own houses, some don’t.  On the other hand the average person my age here in a more urban environment (granted almost anything is more urban than my hometown) lives in an apartment, either with a significant other or with friends or maybe even alone; goes to bars frequently; travels as much as they can afford; & generally still leads what I think of as a more “college lifestyle.”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with either lifestyle & I am not trying to pass judgment on anyone here.  I’m just saying that as a 25 year-old nurse, wife, homeowner, & NON-parent I sometimes feel like I am a bit out of place in life, kind of caught between two worlds so to speak.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about my station in life.  I love being married to my husband, owning a home, having a dog, & working as a nurse.  And I love the freedom of not having kids yet.  I don’t want to go to bars every week, but I can still do that on the rare occasions I actually want to.  My husband & I can go out to eat alone or with friends as often as we please with no worries about finding a baby-sitter or spending our child’s future college fund.  It’s easy for me to look back on college with great fondness because I do have a ton of wonderful memories from that time, but in the golden light of nostalgia it’s easy to forget the stress that came along with that time in my life (mountains of homework, the constant stream of tests & clinicals, lack of money, etc).  The freedom I have now is truly without comparison to any other point in my life.  And it’s amazing.

And yet I still find myself feeling like my life is boring.  It’s not that I necessarily think it’s boring; it’s just that in comparison to my peers, I feel like my life must be awfully dull.  My husband travels for his job several times a year, often to exotic locations like Hawaii, & many of my friends my age take fairly frequent trips & vacations just for fun.  I on the other hand have to FORCE myself to actually take a vacation & travel somewhere.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy traveling.  I do.  It’s just that the idea of buying a plane ticket & planning out an entire trip stresses me the hell out.  I know; that is so pathetic.  You see why I say I feel boring?  But I can’t help it.  It’s just the way I am.   As much as I love trips to the mountains to hike or days at the beach, at my core my favorite place to be is at home with my husband & puppy.  Magazines & therapists everywhere say that one of the best ways to reignite the romance in your marriage or relationship is to go out of town with your partner.  Not so for me.  A weekend at home with my husband is the most romantic thing I can think of.  I know.  Am I 80 years old or what?  But I think the reasoning behind that is that to me romance springs out of comfort & home is where I’m most comfortable . . . So there you go.  (I suppose the advantage to this is that I can have romantic weekends at home almost every weekend of the year which is definitely fun.)

I realize the real solution here is to stop comparing my life to my peers.  Yet I also know it’s human nature to do so & trying to stop it is probably futile.  I guess what I need to realize is that I am happy with my life & that’s all that matters.  If my life doesn’t square with what the average person my age is doing here or in my hometown or anywhere, who cares?  It’s MY life after all.  And the same is true for anyone reading this.  I also know that as soon as spring rolls around, a lot of the lingering depression that seems to slowly sink in along with the winter will quickly alleviate.  I find this happens every spring.  As soon as it starts getting a little warmer, the days get a little longer, & the flowers start blooming I almost instantly feel a significant lift in my spirits.  And every year I think “Wow, I didn’t realize how bad I’d been feeling,” probably because the “February depression” is such a gradual thing that I hardly realize it’s happened until it’s gone.  For some reason this year I seem a bit more aware of it; perhaps this is a sign that my mental health has actually improved because I’m more in tune with myself, so to speak.

In any case, here’s to spring & planning some mini-vacations & weekend getaways, if not full-out vacations.  After all, one of the most rewarding things we can do in life is to step outside our comfort zones & do the things that scare us.

And here’s to continuing to remind myself that life isn’t a competition; it’s a journey.  And just because my journey looks a little different than someone else’s doesn’t mean either of us is wrong.

A Window Into My Brain


Because all blogs posts are better with pictures, I've included this photo taken on the Neuse River Trail in Raleigh on July 4th this year.

Because all blogs posts are better with pictures, I’ve included this photo taken on the Neuse River Trail in Raleigh on July 4th this year.

For as long as I can remember I have always been “Miss Responsible.”  I have always been the girl who did her homework early, finished her papers well before the deadline, created study guides for tests & shared them with classmates, & packed too much for every out-of-town trip because I always imagine everything I could possibly need.  As a nurse I always have my patients’ lab values & test results written down at the beginning of every shift & I always make sure to update my data & give the latest lab results in report to the next nurse.  I obsess over I&O’s so much that I often have to remind myself that I’m not a patient so I don’t need to measure my own I&O (yes, you can laugh WITH me for that).  I like to think that this makes me detail-oriented but also capable of seeing “the big picture.”  Unfortunately underneath all of this responsible behavior lies a great deal of anxiety.

The first time I saw a psychologist was about a year and a half ago when we were still living in SW Virginia.  I was concerned that I might be OCD because of how detail-oriented I am & the anxiety that this sometimes causes me.  The psychologist quickly assured me that my life is far too organized & controlled for me to actually have OCD (anyone else think that’s an ironic truth?), but that I do have “OCD personality characteristics” which he insisted actually make me a great nurse (I’d like to believe that!).  I continued seeing him maybe once a month until we moved to NC just so I could have a place to vent to someone who wouldn’t go home & worry about me or be offended by anything I said since he had no emotional connection to me.

The first few months in the Raleigh-Durham area were difficult.  Growing up in a place that had four stop-lights in the whole COUNTY makes moving to an urban environment like this an exciting but sometimes daunting challenge.  I hoped it would be easy to meet people & make new friends, but it was nothing like college where I could just walk down the hall or go to class & meet all kinds of interesting people.  (My first year out of college I still had friends in the area who were either still in college or who had graduated but, like me, still lived in the area.)  Sometime around my birthday last year I was feeling quite depressed & lonely especially as the holidays approached & I knew that, being a nurse, I would not get to spend much time with my family due to work obligations.  I decided to once again try a psychologist who turned out to be a very nice older man.  I told him how much I love music & missed playing my flute with a group, so he, a musician himself, told me about a music store downtown where he was certain I could get information about a local flute group.  I took his advice, got lost in downtown trying to find the store, eventually found it, got the information about the flute ensemble, & joined the group in January when their new “semester” began.  I didn’t end up making any great friends in the group but just the experience of making music in a group again brought me great joy.

By the time January-February came around I had started making more friends at work & generally feeling a lot happier with life, so I never went back to see that psychologist until one fateful day this summer when I was talking to one of my best friends online.  She was telling me about her struggles with bipolar disorder & I suddenly realized that my own struggles with anxiety were far from controlled, especially in light of the fact that I have started thinking a lot more about having children someday.  I felt such a relief in knowing that I wasn’t the only “crazy” one out there & also in knowing that if she had the strength to seek treatment I could too.  With her encouragement, I immediately called the psychologist I had seen in December & booked an appointment for that very day.  As it turned out, the psychologist told me I should see a psychiatrist in case I needed actual medical treatment for a possible anxiety disorder.  I was both devastated & relieved.  It took quite a few phone calls to find a psychiatrist who would accept my insurance & once I found one I had to schedule my appointment for a month in the future.  In the ensuing month I considered canceling the appointment so many times.  On good days I would tell myself, as I have so many times in my life, “I’m fine.  I’ve got this.  My life is so ‘perfect’ in so many ways.  I’m 24 years old, married to a wonderful man with whom I own a beautiful house in a gorgeous neighborhood, I have great health, & I’m about to train for charge nurse at my job.  How could I possibly need to see a psychiatrist?”  But on bad days, I couldn’t wait for the appointment just so I could hear what the psychiatrist had to say.

Well, finally the day of the dreaded/highly anticipated appointment arrived & much to my relief the psychiatrist was extremely friendly & put me immediately at ease.  She assured me that I do not have any true mental illness & definitely do not need any medication.  However, she suggested I start seeing one of the counselors in her office to work on some of my anxiety & self-esteem issues which, though they may not be “significant” enough to warrant the title of a true disorder, are still serious enough to bother me.  She applauded me for being so self-aware & for caring so much about my future children that I want to be the best, most stable version of myself before I seriously consider becoming a parent in the next couple of years.

As it turned out one of the counselors had had a last-minute cancellation right at the time my visit with the psychiatrist ended so I was able to start with a counselor that very day.  The counselor was very gentle, caring, & quickly made me feel comfortable in her beautifully decorated office.  I left the office that day feeling “lighter” than I had felt in God knows how long.  I had my second appointment with her last week & I already can’t wait to go back.  I honestly think everyone can benefit from counseling with a good therapist at least a few times a year.  As a friend of mine used to say, we ALL have issues from our childhood, our families, our friends, & just LIFE in general & we all can all benefit from having a caring but objective person to vent to who, as I mentioned before, isn’t going to go home & worry about you or be offended by anything you say (because they have probably heard MUCH worse) & doesn’t have any real emotional connection to you anyway.

It may sound strange to say I am excited about being in counseling, but I really am.  I’ve known for most of my life, even as a kid, that I am a very sensitive, perceptive person.  As my middle school English teacher, wise woman that she is, told me, I am both highly intelligent & highly sensitive which makes me feel things, both good & bad, more strongly than perhaps the average person does.  I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant but I don’t know how else to put it.

As much as I would sometimes like to trade in my brain for one that just doesn’t THINK so darn much about EVERYTHING, I know at the end of the day this brain is what makes me who I am.  I do think it makes me a good nurse; as I have told both psychologists, the psychiatrist, & my current counselor, I often think I am my best self at work because I have something important & meaningful on which to focus all my nervous energy & obsessive tendencies.  And I’d also like to think this brain makes me an empathetic human being who makes a consistent effort to recycle everything possible, donate to charities, & buy water bottles for homeless people who are stuck outside in the heat.

In the near future I hope to post more about my struggles with what one might call “sub-clinical anxiety.”  This isn’t a comfortable topic to discuss & I’ll admit that I feel like I have taken the easy way out by writing about this as a blog post instead of just telling my family, friends, & coworkers in person about my issues.  But as my counselor told me this past week, we all have to start somewhere.  In the meantime, I hope this post will encourage even one person to seek counseling or treatment for their own issues with anxiety or depression.  And for those of you who are lucky enough not to struggle with such issues (though I daresay we all will at some point in our lives), I hope this post will encourage you to be more considerate & compassionate of those who do.

Also, please check out my friend’s brilliant blog (who inspired my own) at http://doesthatmakemecrazyblog.com/