Look what you made me do


There is something that I haven’t been completely open with in when writing in this blog.  Its not that I haven’t gotten around to writing about it… or that I’ve tried to hide it necessarily… but it is something that I’ve struggled dealing with and accepting.  So here it goes…

My perfect, hilarious, beautiful, quirky, intelligent, blessing of a child, Jack, may be on the autism spectrum.  I’m sharing this information now because I’ve begun to realize how much this affects my life, my son’s life, my family, etc.  I will elaborate more in future posts because if there is anything I hope to convey more than anything else is …I love him EXACTLY the way he is.  Every bit of him is perfect to me.  He will always be perfect to me.  I’ve struggled with expressing it here because the idea of autism physically hurt me. It hurt me because I didn’t want him to suffer at all.  I didn’t want life to be hard for him.  I didn’t want him to miss out on opportunities.  As the days go on I’m starting to realize that autism doesn’t have to mean that Jack’s life will be any less fulfilling than anyone else’s.  It doesn’t have to mean the worst.  And the reason I say that he “may” have autism is because, well, honestly he acts exactly like I did as a kid.  We are very similar in many ways that hurt me because I know the challenges I faced when I was younger.  Whether he is or he isn’t… right now, we are chugging along and he is happy.  He is in school, he tells jokes and laughs, he loves his sister and is making friends.  I am so proud of him.

The reason I’m writing all of this out today is because there was something that happened this week that upset me deeply and without understanding the challenges we face you may not understand why the comments were so upsetting.

When I was a kid I was very shy, much like Jack.  I had friends but I was only comfortable in small groups.  I was nervous about talking to boys or anyone I decided was “cooler than me.”  I could determine who was “cooler than me,” at a very young age also.  I remember it happening as early as when I was 5 or so.  Jack struggles talking with children his own age.  We’re working on it but it is not something that comes naturally to him.  As for me, as I grew older I would pretend like I was a famous. Being famous would mean that everyone would just have to like me and I wouldn’t have to figure out how to make them like me.  Obviously, the desire to be famous has faded drastically with time but the love of music I developed many years ago when I would sing pop songs in my room for hours at a time has not.  It was therapeutic then and it is therapeutic now.  It was something that was my own and it helped me get through a lot of hard times.

When I got pregnant I prayed my children would not be like me.  I prayed they wouldn’t overthink things… or worry or obsess.  I prayed they would be confident and outgoing.  Though my kids are not exactly like I am, they do suffer from some of the things that I have suffered with.  At 4 years old, Jack is such a deep thinker.  He’s hyper aware… and so perceptive.  He also struggles with expressing himself and having real conversations at times.  A lot of this is because he is …4.  But some of this is because the words just don’t come to him.   I find it hard to know what he’s thinking sometimes or how he is feeling all the time.  Any way I can connect with him each day makes my heart so full.  It lets me know that my boy is in there.  Even if he’s hidden behind lots of chaotic thoughts, fears and obsessions… he’s there.  I can get to him and he can get to me.  We can find each other.  I’ve found many of these connections take place with music.

Recently, Taylor Swift released, “Look What You Made Me Do.”  I turned it on in the car and, on our way to my parent’s house, I turned to Jack in the back seat and sang the entire song to him.  Complete with sassy faces and dance moves hahah.  He loved it.  He tried to sing it back.  He danced.  We were connecting.  In a moment, we were both care free and happy.  When you’re a worrier, a constant over thinker, plagued with mental issues… you don’t have many moments of peace.  So, seeing my son smile, dance, laugh and perform… for me and with me- was a really beautiful thing to see.  We sing and dance to other pop songs too. Britney, Beyoncé, Spice girls… you name it.  When Jack was a baby Jeremy and I harmonized “Ghetto Superstar,” and it made him stop crying!  Pop music, for Jack, is solace in a very busy, hectic life.

Music is amazing.  It is healing and therapeutic.  It’s hard for my dad to hold a conversation with Jack at times but when he’s in my dad’s car and he turns on the Bluegrass, Jack slaps his knee and bobs his head to the beat.  He takes interest in it and he loves it.

At night, when I’m lying down with my sweet boy to get him to sleep I sometimes sing “Down In The River To Pray.”  One night, Jack turned to me and softly said, “Mommy, I like this song.”  Again, a connection.  My heart felt so full and my eyes teared up.  My boy was calm, happy and enjoying the moment.

So, getting to the point of this entire post.  Someone criticized my son’s knowledge of pop music the other day.  “Why does he even know who Taylor Swift is?” He shouldn’t know who the Spice girls are.”  “You don’t want your kids dressing like ho’s.”  “Let him be a kid.”

The words cut deep.  I thought to myself that this sort of thing happens… ALL the time.  People are so quick to throw their judgments at others.  They don’t think about what others are going through.  The person who said these things compared me to another mother.  They implied that this other person was raising their kid’s right when I was raising mine poorly.  Maybe they didn’t think through what they were saying.  Maybe they stand by it.  I don’t know… and I don’t care really.  I’ve never written anything more true than what I am about to write:

I absolutely adore my son.  I will do ANYTHING to help him.  ANYTHING.  I will constantly look for ways to connect with him, console him, heal him, make him laugh, keep him healthy and keep him safe.  I don’t care if it makes me look like the worst person or mother in existence.  If it is helping my son…I don’t care what anyone thinks.  The same goes for my daughter.  No one knows my children better than I know my children.  No one knows our struggles, our day to day lives, our family… more than us.

If pop music, hell, any music… makes my son smile– we’ll listen to it all day.  If a Taylor Swift song gives him a few carefree, fun minutes… we’ll listen to Taylor Swift.  I have sat in my room for hours practicing to Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Whitney Houston, Dolly Parton, Dixie Chicks, Janis Joplin, Gwen Stefani, Joni Mitchell, Alison Krauss, etc. etc. etc.  As recently as a few months ago I spent an entire night with one of my best friends doing NOTHING but singing for hours on end.  It was one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time.

So… to those of you that want to judge me… or anyone else.  Just don’t.  Keep it to yourself.  The way I raise my children may not be your style… but it is what works for us.  The 3 minutes we get to perform our favorite songs… is 3 minutes we’re connecting, smiling, loving and feeling peace.

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder and motherhood


Recently I read an article from themighty.com.  It was a wonderful article that I wish I’d read many years ago.  It talked about an aspect of Obsessive-compulsive disorder that is not often thought about when one thinks of OCD.  Obsessive-compulsive disorder to many people is someone who cleans incessantly or washes their hands one too many times.  It is much more than that.

My OCD started when I was a child.  I went undiagnosed for many years.  I knew I struggled with a variety of things but this was my “normal.”  One thing that plagued my early years was persistent worrying.  I worried every time it stormed that there would be a tornado and my family would die.   I worried that something would happen to my parents and I would be all alone.  I worried that if I talked to someone I would be rejected.  Sure, everyone worries about things like this every now and then but I was very young.

One experience that comes to mind that really triggered my OCD was my dad choking when I was about 7 years old.   I remember it very vividly.  The panic and the horror were embedded into my memory.  My dad recovered but I didn’t.  I made rules for myself when it came to eating.  I decided that I couldn’t eat hard things, or any food I’d read in my parents Reader’s Digest magazine that was considered a “top” choking food.  (carrots, nuts, hot dogs, etc).  As a child it was easy to get away with not eating very much.  I felt like if I could stick to a list of “safe foods,” then I could prevent choking.

As time went on this need to prevent choking intensified.  I had a larger list of foods I “couldn’t eat.”  The foods I did eat were chewed a million times.  I chewed my food until it was a liquid and then I swished it between my teeth to make sure there were no large parts that would choke me.  This caused me to eat very slowly.  I was embarrassed at how I ate and would often fill my mouth with food and then excuse myself to go to the bathroom and spit it in the toilet.  Eventually, being made fun of by my peers at the lunch table wasn’t worth it and I would just have water or juice for lunch.

Looking back on my childhood I can recall many moments that showed aspects of a slowly intensifying mental illness.  A family member passed away in a car accident and I thought it was my fault.  I thought that somehow I’d willed it so.  Though this was impossible, I confessed it to my mother like I was in a court room.  I sobbed and told her it was me…I did it.  She assured me I didn’t, but the guilt still felt so real.

My mom recorded in my baby book that I refused to sit with Santa at 4 years old because “he wasn’t wearing his gloves.”  I can only imagine it was because of my OCD.  My OCD has taken on many forms over the years, each one unique and debilitating.  It had become so much of my life that I didn’t even realize it was the culprit of so much of my anguish.  I didn’t even consider it.  I saw multiple psychiatrists and therapists whose diagnoses varied from bipolar disorder to depression to panic disorder, etc.  None of them mentioned the possibility of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

However, in college I realized that I felt a lot of anxiety if the gas pump didn’t stop on a number divisible by 5.  I felt a lot of anxiety if I didn’t complete a thought before the stop light turned green.  I replayed images in my head over and over and over again because I couldn’t stop them.  I checked and rechecked everything.  I started to become obsessed with everything medical.  I decided my lymph nodes were too large and measured them multiple times a day.  I would ask friends to feel them and measure them for me.  I took my temperature hundreds of times a day and I would google symptoms for various illnesses because I had to.  If I didn’t, I would get the illness and it would be my fault.

My obsessive-compulsive disorder turned my life into a mere existence, rather than actual living.  I spent multiple hours a day checking, rechecking, obsessing, thinking, preventing, acting on my compulsions.  Sometimes, it became too much and I would break.  Thankfully, I’ve had the support of an amazing therapist, psychiatrist, family and husband.  I am on medication and I am living my life.  I still struggle sometimes, but I am happy.

One reason I decided to write about my struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder is because of the article I referenced above.  For one, the article makes me feel less alone in the world.  I feel stronger having read it.  I feel like someone that is not a horrible person but someone who is afflicted with a mental illness.  I have a disability.  I have OCD.  I can admit it and I can deal with it and I can live with it.

Secondly, I referenced the article because there were many comments on the piece stating that they didn’t understand why people will mental illnesses continued to reproduce.  Some felt that it just made sense to stop having children if you were just going to pass these debilitating issues on to your kids.  I read the comments and suddenly I was flooded with all of this guilt that I’d been working on for the past 4 years.

You see, I’m a mother of 2.  I have two perfect children that are my everything.  My children are a true blessing.  I know most mothers feel this way about their kids, but I consider myself to be especially lucky. I’m lucky that there was plan bigger than myself for my life.  After I got married, I wrote in red lipstick on my mirror, “Don’t have children.  They will be like you.  Don’t be selfish.”  Shortly after I wrote these words… I was pregnant.  I cried and I feared having a child that had to live like I’d lived but he was coming regardless.

I had my son and he is now 4.  Unfortunately, he is showing signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Fortunately, I get to be his mother and he is my son.  I’ve been able to recognize his issues and tackle them early on.  He is in play therapy, he receives special services, he is encouraged, adored, advocated for and loved immensely.  He is happy.  I’ve been told over and over again by everyone that meets him how genuinely happy of a kid he is.  These words comfort me more than anyone knows.  If my boy is happy, then we are doing something right.  And the really amazing thing is that helping him isn’t a one way street.  He has helped me just as much.  I’ve exposed myself to many of my own fears so that I could appear strong for my son and alleviate his worry.  In many of these situations, I’ve gotten over my own issues.  He has helped me in major ways and he is only 4!

Having a child when you have a mental illness is not selfish.  If I neglected him, refused to acknowledge his issues or my own because I didn’t want to deal with them or admit they were there…that would be selfish.  I choose to help him, advocate for him, work hard for him, guide him, talk with him, get him services, laugh with him and love him forever.  I choose to continue to help myself and show myself some compassion.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a disability but it doesn’t have to define my life.  I can be a good mother with OCD and I can have a happy child with OCD.  We will get through it together.

Quick Tip Tuesday: Get up and move


Today’s tip is about mental health, again.  (Is anyone noticing a trend? lol)  Things have been hard, I haven’t been shy about admitting that… and I haven’t even tried to hide how hard they’ve actually been.   If I didn’t have kids I would no doubt be in my bed, under the covers until my stomach growling forces me to wake up… where I would no doubt drink something rather than eat to calm my stomach and spend the rest of my day zoning out in front of the TV or Internet.

BUT… I am a mom– and as HARD as it is to push that natural inclination away, get up when the kids get up and get out of bed… that is what I have to do.  That is what I WANT to do… its just hard to get there.  Its easy to move one foot in front of the other but its really hard to keep going sometimes.  I get stuck in my head and it is hard to be present for them.  As hard as it is, I keep doing it each day and I’m thankful for my littles because they give me that motivation that I need.  Doing it for them..helps me too.

Kids don’t sit still.  They don’t wait for you to feel like doing anything…they very much operate on their own timeline.  So… I wake up and make them breakfast, change diapers, get them dressed, and try desperately to figure out SOMETHING for us to do that day.  Whether its read a few books for circle time, drive around while on a Starbucks run, go to the park, or meet up with a friend– doing something is important.

So my quick tip today is, in a way, faking it until you make it.  When you can’t find it inside of yourself to keep on going for you… you can do it for your kids.  I’ve said it before, children are such beautiful, bright blessings.   When I get up and do things for my kids, I get more energy to do things for myself, our home, my husband.  When making my daughter’s breakfast I can tidy up in the kitchen for a few minutes, I can take a walk around the neighborhood because my kids need to get out.  As a result, I am walking and exerting energy.  I’m getting some stress out and moving forward, physically and mentally.

When you can’t carry on, do it anyway.  The fact is, we all can give just a little bit more.  Sometimes you need your sweet, innocent babies to show you that you do have it in you.  They have absolutely no idea how much they’ve changed my life for the better.  I struggle.  I’m not perfect and am not even close… but I’m just a little better because they are my babies.  I’m thankful that they are wild, energetic, healthy children.  I have to keep up the energy to keep up with them… and even in the darkest times, I’m always happy to do it.

5 steps to getting your anxiety and other mental health issues under control

Have you been dealing with a lot of anxiety lately?  I have.  Truthfully, I’ve been dealing with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder since I was a young child.  I didn’t always know that was what I was dealing with, but it has become obvious in the past few years that I’ve been dealing with mental health issues for a long time.  I mean, how many 4 year olds do you know that refuse to sit in Santa’s lap because he wasn’t wearing his gloves?  Yep.  That was me.  I was that 4 year old.  Even at 4, the obsessive compulsive disorder was there and it was gearing up for a long ride.  I am 31 and still suffer with crippling anxiety and OCD.  However, because I am 31 and have been working on it since I was 18 years old… I’ve developed quite a few strategies for making it. And yes, I said making it… because for a while you just have to make it.  Once you start making it… you work toward other goals like living a happy and fulfilling life.  Goals we’re all working at!

  1. Therapy.  I cannot stress the importance of therapy.  Therapy has saved me time and time again.   However, I also cannot stress enough that the important thing is finding a therapist that you mesh well with.   I’ve had several over the years and some were not a good fit.  I currently have a phenomenal therapist that has helped me through the hardest times and has helped me see my own worth.  She has been a true Godsend.  Find a therapist that is there for you and not because it is a job.  Find a therapist that you trust and are comfortable with.  You can start searching here.  (Make sure you read reviews and talk to them ahead of time about what insurance they accept!)
  2. Medication.  This one may get me a lot of backlash and that is fine.  I have tried over and over and over again to tackle my issues without medication.  I’ve told myself I didn’t need it.  I’ve told myself that I’m better off without it.  The truth is, I can’t really function.  I am a miserable wife and mother.  I am an obsessive ball of crazy that can’t see past my own eyeballs.  I only see everything inside of my head.  I’m not present.  I’m not well.  I started seeing a psychiatrist (which is important, I have issues with general practitioners prescribing these and then not adequately following up)  and started Prozac several years ago and the change it has made in my life is unbelievable.  I am more level, I have fewer obsessive and anxious spells and am able to see more clearly.  When I miss doses and really get off track, it is obvious.  This drug has helped me and I am thankful for it.   I think medication can be really helpful, especially with therapy.
  3. Self-Help Reading.  Mental health is something you need to work at like a subject in school.  For some people, they just “get it.”  They don’t have to work at it as much as some of us… but for me, mental health is like math.  I’m always having to really work at it to try to figure it out.  Thankfully there are excellent resources out there that really help.  I recommend the following books:  Self Esteem: How to Heal Addictive ThinkingFeeling GoodFull Catastrophe Living.  These books have helped me in the hardest of times.  I’ve read and re-read them and they are amazing resources.  Very beneficial.
  4. Mindfulness Meditation.  Meditation may feel silly at first but the results speak for themselves.  I’ve had random meditation apps on my phone that didn’t do much for me, but then my therapist recommended the Insight Timer app.  This app really changed the way I viewed meditation.  I could feel the changes in my body.  I remember the first time I really got lost in the meditation.  I suddenly had this awareness of every move– Every small move in my body.  I was so calm and in tune with myself.  Studies have even shown that meditation changes the brain after a period of weeks.  Seriously! Really about it here.
  5. Support System.  Finding a support system is very important in treating debilitating anxiety and other issues.  Explaining your feelings and thoughts to a trusted individual whether it be a spouse, friend, parent, etc. is very important.  They may not fully “get it” but they will know that it is something you’re working on.  Let them know how to help you.  It isn’t always easy or fun, but it is necessary.  My husband has learned so much about my issues and can even tell when they’re coming on.  He knows how to help me and reminds me to take my medication.

When you’re living with anxiety/depression/OCD, etc… it can be hard to know where to begin when getting help.  Sometimes its hard to see beyond your own thoughts.  It is hard to get out of bed… it is hard to be a good parent or spouse.  It helps to know that others have been through it and you’re not alone.  If you’re struggling with what to do next or how to help yourself, please just take these few steps first.  One of my favorite Martin Luther King Jr. quotes comes to mind,

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”  

You don’t have to set any huge goals at first.  You don’t have to fault yourself or tell yourself you have to be cured immediately, just do what you can to get through each day and then each day will become easier.  You will get through this and things will start to fall into place.  But to get to where you want to be in life, you must help yourself first!

 

 

Quick Tip Tuesday: Keep it real

My tip this (almost) Thursday… is to keep it real.  Weird right?  This isn’t really a tip is it?  Well, I’m not really in the mood for a tip.  Lately, I’ve been tired.  I’ve been really beaten down by life and things have just been hard.  I sat around tonight wondering what my tip could be this week and all I could really think about is how I’m feeling right now.  Specifically, how there is no tip that anyone can give me to make things easier necessarily.  So… I decided to just come to the blog with how I feel.  So… my tip is keeping it real.

If I’m being very real… rather than post a tip, I wanted to come here and tell you guys that I’m extra exhausted right now but I can’t do anything but obsessively clean my house.  (Wow! What a work in progress that is… I could work for a year and not be done most likely)  All I can think about is how I want to organize things or what needs to be cleaned next.  I don’t know why …but its the only thing I feel like I have control of at the moment.  I’m also sad for my husband… who is sad, obviously.  I’m sad when my son realizes each day that granddaddy is indeed still in heaven.  I’m stressed beyond belief… and I’m having trouble managing it.

Tonight, I texted my doctor to tell her that I couldn’t remember if I’d taken my medication, and feared I may have taken it twice.  Though I knew this would not be a problem, I compulsively had to text her.  And call the pharmacist.  And my mom.  And my husband.  This panic and paranoia landed me a 9 am trip to her office tomorrow morning.  When things feel out of control I start to spin out of control.  It is my reality.  I have dealt with it for many, many years.  Thankfully, I have amazing healthcare providers that can see it and know when to step in and check on things.

Overall, I think we’re doing a pretty damn good job of handling the absolute insanity that has come our way this year.  My kids are happy.  I get out of bed every morning.  We sometimes make it to story time.  We drive around… we talk, we play and we laugh.  So, even though I have very hard moments, I’m still happy and I’m still blessed.  And I’m not just writing that so that this happy mommy blog post has a happy little ending.  I mean it.  I’m lucky to have my kids, my husband, our home and so much love.

Maybe next week I’ll come at you with a new tip… a real one.  But for now, this is all I’ve got.  <3.