When Lipstick Is My Lifeline: Coping With Mental Illness

by Kileah McIlvain

I stood in front of the newest display of NYX Suede lipsticks at the local beauty store, hands trembling from the newest round of psych meds I’d started that week as I picked out the last shade of Stone Fox…my newest most-coveted lip color. I carefully placed it in my shopping bag, already running through eyeshadow shades I’d be wearing to match it. My husband was in the car with 4 cranky and probably hungry kids. But this 5 minutes? It was mine. Even if it was 5 minutes over some damn grey lipstick. It was mine. My shaky hands browsed the sample aisle before I meandered my way back to the front counter to complete my purchase and walked back into the screaming hurricane that was my minivan. I sighed. I could finish this day. I could maybe do it. For 5 minutes, I didn’t contemplate death, or removal of myself, or running away, or that I was having to wean because some medication was supposed to make me not crazy, or the crazy burning pain over every inch of my skin that wouldn’t go away, or overwhelming floods of anxiety. Five Minutes. It. Was. MINE. 

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You do what you can. You say the words. You make the motions.

You feel like like a broken shell. Fragile. Incomplete. Lost.

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This is what I feel like. A lot.

You feel like a muddy flood. Nothing is clear. Everything is swirling.

Being co-responsible for bringing 5 precious lives into the world, 4 of which are living, in the midst of figuring out how to wade through the deep waters of mental illess and a yet-to-be-diagnosed myalgia condition means I don’t have a lot of control. Things come out, feelings wash over every inch of me and it feels ugly. It’s there. It isn’t pretty. It’s part of my journey. It’s my story.


I can’t control the pain. I can’t control the way the new medication I’m trying out makes me feel like shit. Or how many times I have to say no, or flake out because I know that if I expend one more bit of energy…I’ll be paying for it for the next week. My body, my time, my soul, is a precious commodity around here. To myself, my partner, and my kids.

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My first blueberry bush.

So? You can’t control the ocean. Sometimes you can’t even find the damn shovel to dig yourself out of the pit you find yourself in. But? I CAN hold a small container of lipstick. Grasp the small tube and spread it around on my lips and try my best to make an even line with shaky medicated fingers. Because it’s a small thing. But it’s something that I can have a say in. I can tell it where it goes. I can make it as dark or bright or outlandish or as grey as I want to. I can use this lipstick as a badge on my face that declares “I AM STILL HERE. I AM ME. AND THIS ILLNESS INSIDE OF ME WILL NOT CONSUME ME. NOT TODAY.”

It may be something else entirely different for you. Sinking your fingers into the earth and growing seeds. Knitting and stroking and spinning beautiful things from frail fibers woven and twisted together. It may be speaking healing words into a fragile heart, or stretching warm silent arms around the shuddering shoulders of a grieving friend. It may be watching your baby’s breathing as she sleeps…blissfully unaware of the harshness and darkness that life can bring.

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My littlest hobbit. Napping.

Whatever that thing is. Small or great. Cling to it. Whether it’s a tube of lipstick, or a piece of yarn, or a sweaty curl on your newborn’s head, or a plate of food handed to someone who’s belly is empty. Cling to it.

Because really? It isn’t so much about the thing you cling to.

It’s that you are clinging.

So cling, dear heart. And when your hands and arms and soul are tired, we will cling together. 

Because? You are always, and always will be, enough

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Stone Fox lips. Mine.

 

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Bipolar Parenting- The Fear My Children Would Be Better Off Motherless

by Joni Edelman

In 2005, my oldest sons were five and seven years old. On a summer afternoon I found them in a hurricane of kicks and slaps, a disagreement over legos or hot wheels. I raised my voice, yelling, STOP. Unfazed by my clenched fists, my volume, the anger in my eyes and in my scowl, their fighting continued. My rage reached boiling. I scanned the room. My eyes landed on a wooden chair near the door and brought it down on the hardwood floor in a crash, splinters flying, the flooring scratched. The fighting stopped and their expressions told a story of terror.

I remember those faces — still. It’s been 10 years.

***

In the summer of 1983 my best friend ever in the entire universe came to my house for a sleepover. My house was the best house for sleepovers. We had Twinkies and microwave popcorn, fruit roll-ups and A&W Root Beer — and all the things 9 year old’s dreams are made of. The cabinets were organized alphabetically; Twinkies by the Triscuits, popcorn by the Pasta-roni.

I had a daisy comforter and three decorative pillows, my own TV, and eight Cabbage Patch dolls. My mom would sometimes be gone all night — which only added to the allure.

Me and my best friend forever ate the popcorn, and everything else, and watched whatever was on TV (which wasn’t much). And went to sleep.

When we woke up Saturday morning, the house was quiet, and I had a new stepfather. Steve worked construction and smelled like stale cigarettes and tequila and freshly milled 2X4s. He yelled a lot. I didn’t like him. He had three pesky, filthy children, who I also didn’t like.

Friday night, my mom and Steve went to Vegas. And Saturday morning I had a new family. The next week, in the middle of a school day, my mom picked me up. From school we went to Steve’s house, which was dirty, remotely located, and surrounded by flooded groves of walnut trees and fields of cotton. I didn’t like it either.

I never saw my school — or my desk full of Hello Kitty pencils — again.

This may seem like odd behavior, because it is, but it wasn’t for me. Sudden changes in locale, housing, men, stepsiblings, schools, all typical. I loathed it. I was accustomed to it.

***

Ten years later I was living on my own and helping my sixth stepfather raise my 4-year-old sister. My mom was living in some remote city in Northern California, with the addict who would ostensibly become my seventh stepfather. I was in college, married, pregnant, terrified.

In early adulthood the bipolar disorder that was my genetic destiny was pushed around — shuffled from doctor to doctor, city to city, misdiagnosis to misdiagnosis. Deeply distressed, consumed by sadness, it was just “postpartum depression.” If I had manic energy, it was “drive” or “passion” or “dedication.” Snap decisions, irresponsible, risky, promiscuous, it was just “life learning.” I never finished anything I started, something always got in the way. It was never Bipolar Disorder.

It was always Bipolar Disorder.

I wanted children, a family — stability to heal my wounds. And I knew the truth, I was very sick. I wanted desperately to be anyone but my mother, but, always suppressed, always explained away, I was exactly like my mother. All night sewing marathons, consuming obsession with fitness, organization, church, gardening, decor, 17 kinds of crafts. My magical thinking, my invincibility. The rage. The waves of crippling depression.

I had three children who were pushed aside, when I was sad, or busy, which was a lot of the time. I yelled. I cried. I retreated. I apologized. I did it all again — an infinite loop of dysfunction.

I wanted to be the best mother. The opposite of my mother. I wanted to do it all, and well. But  I wasn’t doing it well. I was doing what I could. But sometimes what you can do isn’t enough.

There was always fear, the fear of the unspoken truth, the elephant in the room — in my life, all around me —  as much as I didn’t want to be my mother, I was. I ignored it, ultimately medicating the long troughs of depression, celebrating the months of boundless energy, denying the dysfunctional behavior;  the out of control spending, the risk taking, the defiance, the promiscuity, the rage.

For 20 years.

***

When I was 40, I met my psychiatrist, a diminutive man, who drinks lattes and eats Sun Chips during my appointments. The man who mixed a complicated cocktail of psychiatric medications, and finally leveled my moods. The man that rose my depression, and stole my mania, and bridged the gap between crippling sadness and dangerous madness. The man who changed it all.

Despite the bridge, my moods still shift from time to time. Lately they’ve been low, I’ve planned my death seven different ways. And so we adjust my dosages. Three months ago they were high, high enough that I didn’t want to sleep. But I continued to swallow the usual pills, and the extra pills he prescribed to force the sleep I hate, to shut me down. We move my meds up and down, in spite of the sometimes crippling side effects. In the name of sanity. In the name of trying to be a safe place for my five children.

Bipolar Parenting, Joni Edelman

I’m still scared. I’m scared that the 10 years I lived in denial hurt my children, irreparably.  I’m scared that they will grow up and write something like this, recounting a childhood of fear and dysfunction. I’m scared that the cocktail that keeps me alive may stop working — that the depths of depression will take hold, and I won’t be able to shake it. And I will die. And leave them motherless.

I’m scared that they might be better off motherless.

I’m scared that one of them will have this cursed gift. I’m scared they will blame me, like I blamed her. I’m scared that someday I’ll be her, and not even know.

Every night I brush my teeth and I swallow five pills and I hope that I can be better, that I am better.

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IMG_0670 I’m Joni. I’m lucky enough to have 5 amazing kids (19, 16, 15, 4 and 2), one fantastic husband, an awesome sister and a yarn addiction. When I’m not raising up people I’m a freelance writer, RN, and the momma behind mommabare. Love is my religion. I like cake and crafty crap. And yoga. In that order. 
You can follow Joni on Instagram here and on Twitter here.
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Leaving the parenting island and asking for help

by Jessica Martin-Weber
Parenting Island and asking for help

Parenting Island AKA Poop Rock.

 

I was struck by the beauty of that island looking rock from afar on the shore in San Francisco.  Then my friend told me it was so pretty because it was covered in bird poop.  Poop Rock.  Reminded me a lot of parenting, pretty from afar but sometimes lonely and covered in poop when you get up close.

Don’t lecture me, I know parenting is wonderful, I love it but that doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes really hard and stinky like a rock covered in poop.

Last week, my good friend Cindy was battling pneumonia.  It was horrible and scary.  Her husband is in the military and away at the moment so she and her 4 children are on their own as she struggles to get well.  I couldn’t get to her, we’re over 8 hours from each other in different countries, but I wish I could.  Every time I saw her share something of her struggle I was moved, inspired, and ready to jump in the van (that broke down 4 days after I wrote this).  Through Facebook, I feel like I get to keep up with my friend and in some small way offer support.  I wish I could do more.  Yet even so sick and all the way in Canada, my friend reminded me of something incredibly important: we all need help from time to time.

Asking for help is one of the hardest needs to voice sometimes.  Or all the time.  People judge and are judged for even needing help and we all feel it.  There is such shame attached to needing help or even encouragement.  We’re all supposed to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and in made for TV moments, triumph over whatever challenges we face.  Alone.  Without resources.  Without bragging. Without getting anything we don’t deserve because by our own blood, sweat, and tears we paid for it or worked for it or fought for it all on our own.  We talk about the strength of the human spirit and applaud those that figure out how to go it without help.  And anyone that is worn out, broken down, or overwhelmed must be less of a person.  Even in a safe place, like The Leaky Boob Facebook, mothers (and sometimes dads too) may take the bold step to admit they are struggling but do so with trepidation, beating themselves up for being a “horrible parent, feeling like a failure” before someone else does, all because they find parenting hard sometimes.

This cultural attitude of glorifying individualism and self-sufficiency is hard enough when children aren’t involved, but when we become parents it’s not just us any more.  Our pride can get in the way of seeking out desperately needed help.  Pregnancy and childbirth set the precedent in parenting without help and while I love doulas and highly recommend having doula support for birthing women (I have for mine), traditionally the role wasn’t a paid position but one filled by a family member, friend, or a member of the community.  There seems to be a growing sense of shame in needing help from someone who isn’t designated as a paid professional.  We see it in infant nutrition all the time, mothers struggling but too embarrassed to admit breastfeeding isn’t working as well as it “naturally” should as she struggles with pain and a frustrated baby or families not knowing where to turn when they need an alternative.  In fact, the number one reason mother’s don’t reach their personal breastfeeding goals is lack of support.  Support = help.  But it certainly isn’t isolated to the area of infant nutrition, pregnancy, and child birth.  Parenting dilemmas such as health care, child care, discipline, education, financial stress, housing, safety, you name it, are often hindered by our own pride in asking for help.  As though needing a helping hand occasionally, let alone for a long season, is an indication of inadequacies or failure.  Afraid it reflects badly on us and our abilities, many parents forgo voicing their need for support and actual help because we know people will say things like “you shouldn’t have had children if you couldn’t handle it” (what are parents supposed to do, put the kids back from where they got them?), we suffer quietly and so do our children.  Sometimes it’s major roadblocks that threaten the health and safety of the family, particularly the children, others deplete personal internal resources and reinforce feelings of failing over every day aspects of parenting that may wear us down.  Either way, while learning to deal with hardships and having the experience of overcoming them on our own once in a while can be empowering, is this isolation really what we want to be the norm?

But the truth is we all benefit when we help each other, yes, even when we admit we need help and ask for it.  Not only individually are we strengthened, our communities are too.  It can be risky though, by admitting our struggles, we’re opening ourselves up for criticizing judgment or worse, being ignored and that is more than hard, it’s down right terrifyingly heart breaking.  Most parents would do anything including swallowing their pride to care for their children, there’s not a job we wouldn’t work or begging we are above when it comes to the safety and provision of our children.  That fear though, the fear of judgment or of not mattering enough for someone to even notice, can be paralyzing and parents may, unintentionally, cause suffering for their children simply because the cultural attitudes about asking for help have effectively silenced them for issuing the call when most needed.  Yet almost no parent would say their child deserved less.

Asking for help is something I continue to grow in along with knowing how to offer help, carefully avoiding judgment.  Including learning how to have grace without judgment for myself.  The journey hasn’t been easy and I’m still learning.  How does one master admitting you can’t do something on your own?  That you don’t have it all together and need others?  I’m not sure yet but I know it has gotten easier for me simply by looking at my children, I never want them to be afraid to ask for my help when they encounter difficulties.  They have not only been my inspiration in seeking out help when I need it, but sometimes my teachers.  They have shown me the joy that comes from helping and being helped, the agony that comes from pride getting in the way.  From communicating my need for help during difficult pregnancies to admitting I don’t know how to handle certain parenting situations, to finding a mentor in understanding child development when my children were driving me crazy to even asking for financial support because we lack the funds required to help our daughter reacher her dreams, though Jeremy and I work hard for our family, admitting we can’t always do it on our own and that we’re not an island but in fact need the village, our children are the ones that have benefited the most from us humbling ourselves to say three little words: “help me please.”  Accepting our limitations is the first step in being able to strengthen each other.  I firmly believe that in strengthening, supporting, and yes helping, parents makes for a healthier community that is stronger, more creative, and more skilled.  What a gift we can give our children.

My friend Cindy, has posted on Facebook a few pleas for help with her children so she can rest.  Yes, she could keep trying to go it on her own, likely prolonging her illness and a lower level of care for her children while she tries to recover.  There are risks to her not recovering, potentially problematic for those around her.  Worse, she could end up in the hospital and her children in the custody of someone else for an indeterminate amount of time.  It is to her health benefit, the benefit of the health care system, the benefit of her children, and the benefit of her friends for her to ask for help.  Her recovery will be aided and the community circles around her will be stronger as a result.  Relationships are being fortified as her friends respond to her pleas and offer their support not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as well.  I am so incredibly proud of her asking for help.  Knowing her personally I know that she is a capable, strong, and hard working woman, talented as a journalist and an attentive and loving mother.  This moment of needing help (and the next one that comes her way) are not a reflection of her capabilities, simply a moment where her humanity is evident.  And she has already paid it forward and will do so again.  Because she gets that we need each other.  We all do.

 

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