Tag Archives: depression

The Semicolon Tattoo

4 Mar

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I heard about Project Semicolon a few years ago and read the story of the founder, as well as some of the submission stories on the website. It was impossible not to be touched by the heart-wrenching tales of struggle, loss, conflict, and sadness. Each story ended on a high note, with the protagonist learning something about him or herself, and finding a way to exist and contribute in the societies that we find ourselves thrown into.

Every person who wrote in was linked by some struggle with mental illness, either in themselves or manifesting in their loved ones.

PROJECT SEMICOLON IS A GLOBAL NON-PROFIT MOVEMENT DEDICATED TO PRESENTING HOPE AND LOVE FOR THOSE WHO ARE STRUGGLING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS, SUICIDE, ADDICTION AND SELF-INJURY. PROJECT SEMICOLON EXISTS TO ENCOURAGE, LOVE AND INSPIRE.

Throughout my life, I’ve known many people who struggled with mental illness. Some of those stories end in tragedy, others in violence, and some end with hope and a commitment to move forward. My own personal struggle is one that I will continue to battle for the duration of my life. It affects every facet of my daily routine, my parenting, my marriage, and my relationships with my friends and family. There have been extreme highs and extreme lows. To quote Grey’s Anatomy, “I’m all dark and twisty.” But in the midst of the darkness and the twists, there have been serious, shining moments when I’ve been happier than I ever could have dreamed and I hang on to those memories, and spend a lot of time and energy trying to create more of them, not just for me, but for my kids, for my husband, for my family and friends. Everyone should have those moments when they laugh so hard they’re sore the next day, or you’ve done something so scary but so awesome that your body fills with adrenaline and you can’t stop talking about it even though it’s annoying everyone around you, or you accomplish something after six years that you’d almost given up on but gave one last push for.

how do you make the face for yay

There are moments in life when we feel so sad we aren’t sure how we could possibly go on and moments when we are so happy we couldn’t imagine not being present for every, single, moment of that happiness.

Merriam-Webster defines the semicolon as:

a punctuation mark (;) indicating a pause, typically between two main clauses, that is more pronounced than that indicated by a comma.

It doesn’t seem like much, but for the people involved in Project Semicolon, it means a continuation of their stories. It means that the stories of all of the individuals who struggle with mental illness and feel like giving up don’t need to end with a period…they can change. It’s still your life, your story, but it’s a little different than how it began. They story becomes hopeful, optimistic, and full of love. Project Semicolon gave people a chance to come together in a community and lean on one another for support. They share their stories and feel heard, accepted and loved. They find help if they want it. They find other people with incomplete, staggered stories and a sense of solidarity.

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A common denominator when it comes to mental illness is that often those afflicted feel very alone. Parents are frightened when they can’t help their children, spouses are hurt and confused, children wonder why they don’t feel loved, and all the while there is a struggle to retain the appearance of normalcy lest we be judged and deemed unworthy in the eyes of our peers, our families, and our friends. To be struggling and afraid and at times completely desperate and then to find ourselves physically alone and abandoned because of a lack of awareness and support for OUR support network is disheartening at best and fatal at its worst. The unthinkable is that in moments of vulnerability, when we ask for help, we find ourselves met with derision, mockery, disbelief, and a general consensus that we should “toughen up” or “get over it”. (For a list of things not to say, there’s a BuzzFeed article for that…of course. ;P)

It's just something that's happening

So…the semicolon tattoo.

A visual reminder that though you can’t see my internal struggle, it’s still there. That every day I have to make a choice to get out of bed or give up. That every day each situation requires the extra effort of sorting through my own feelings and instincts. Should I trust myself or should I ask for help? Is this a real feeling, or is it my illness? Where am I sitting on a rating scale of functional to dysfunctional? Am I causing irreparable damage to the people that I love? Is it better to be alone or should I trust my social network to soldier on in spite of how I may be feeling or acting? Is it too much pressure on them? How can I help them, help me? How can I teach my children that I love them unconditionally but there will be days when it might seem like I don’t? How do I treat this illness seriously while also not becoming a total drama queen?

Invisible Darkness

So…the semicolon tattoo.

A reminder to myself that my story is awesome, and continuing, and ever-changing. A reminder that I have a responsibility to help myself and to help others if I can. A commitment to being open and honest and  accountable for my experiences and struggles. An invitation for hugs. (Because sometimes that’s all you need.)

It’s easy to pretend that mental illness isn’t real, or isn’t as bad as you think, or can’t possibly be THAT terrible. You can’t see it. It’s devious. It can make you look and act as if everything is better than it ever has been, until it isn’t. It can make a mirror image look like a stranger. It makes your friend or sister or parent or child into someone you don’t recognize. I can guarantee you that the “tough love” approach rarely works.

So…the semicolon tattoo.

What do you do when someone you love is struggling with mental illness? Research. Lots of it. If they are unwilling to see someone who can help them, you can. You can learn how to be a support person, and a safe place for your loved one to be honest about how they are feeling without worrying that it is too much of a burden or that you “can’t handle it”. Listen. Listen. Listen. Ask questions. Kind questions. Questions that make it obvious that you don’t care about changing them, or pushing them, or rushing them. Questions that encourage them to keep talking. Questions that make them feel loved, cared for, and supported. Questions like, “How are you feeling? Is there anything you want to talk about? Shall we go with distraction or reality today?” Join them in their distraction. If they’re stuck in bed watching movies for three days, bring popcorn and jump in with them. Sometimes all it takes is another human being in the same room at the same time without any words exchanged at all. Sometimes it takes a good friend to say, “I’m worried about you. I’m coming over.”

The things that you can do vary from person to person, from perspective to perspective, and from experience to experience. The best thing you can do is learn as much as you can about mental illness and apply it to your interactions with the person that you love and care about.

A great place to start is here: 

The Canadian Mental Health Association: 
https://www.cmha.bc.ca/get-informed/mental-health-information/families-friends-help

From the American Psychological Association: 
http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/improving-care.aspx

The Self-Help Guides on 7 Cups of Tea (a free, anonymous website where you can talk to an actual person who will listen to you, no strings attached):
https://www.7cups.com/supportGuides/selfHelpGuides.php

Donate to Mental Health Organizations like:

The Brain and Behaviour Research Foundation:
https://bbrfoundation.org/

Kids Help Phone: 
https://www.kidshelpphone.ca/Teens/home.aspx

And on a lighter note, read all of the many helpful and informative illustrated cartoons available:

Hyperbole and a Half (where I’ve been getting most of these excellent images from, thank you Alli Brosh) 

This comic by Ryan Pequin:
Depression Parkour

My particular brand of mental illness LOVES it when people crack jokes. I love to laugh and if you can get me laughing, even through that hazy curtain of uncertainty, I will love you for it forever.

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So it makes sense that I wanted to be laughing when I made the decision to get my tattoo. I asked my sister to get one with me. To my surprise and delight, she agreed! Not only did I get to be there for her first ever tattoo (something that I REALLY love), we get to share this meaning between us. (Ideally EVERYONE I’m related to would get a semicolon tattoo and we’ll all be linked forever and ever…but that seems unrealistic. ;))

We found a tattoo parlour, booked our appointments, and to celebrate our birthdays (which are both in December) got our semicolon tattoos. They don’t match exactly, because like mental illness I liked the idea of each tattoo being representative of each of us. Each has meaning in its placement and design and I love that we were able to keep something so unifying still so individual. I’m so grateful to my sister for her support and love even while I have had some terrible lows, and I’m thankful that she feels like she can lean on me when she needs to.

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Everyone’s story is unique. It’s not my place to speak for everyone who struggles with any illness. All I can do is tell my own story and how I deal with it on a daily basis. Finding a community, showing support, educating myself, and reaching out to others either by being more authentic or, more frighteningly, risking pushing someone’s boundary by asking them what I can do for them.

My goal every day is to make someone else feel loved, and to give myself permission to let someone else love me. It’s going pretty well so far.

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SPD, Depression and Getting to the End

20 Sep
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Top: 27 weeks with New Baby, contrasted with the same number of weeks for Nova.
Bottom: 28 weeks with newbie, versus 28 weeks with Nova.

The third trimester is officially underway!

What does that mean, you ask? Well…baaaaaasically the trimesters are measured in 12 week increments. All it really means is that I’ve put 28 weeks of pregnancy behind me and am moving on. There are a few special gifts the third trimester brings such as:

Continued breast growth
My poor chest has gone from a B cup to a DD from last pregnancy to this one. Yeah…you saw that correctly. And they’re not finished. You’d think, “Whoa…awesome. Free boob job.” Au contraire my fine friends. I was quite happily a part of the B Cup family. I will never see my solar plexus again and I am not thrilled about it.

Weight gain
This pregnancy I started out at around 170 (I was still losing my baby weight from carrying Nova) and am currently sitting pretty at around 187. The third trimester is a pretty crucial time for baby in terms of physical growth so I’m required to consume an extra 450-500 calories a day. I pretty much eat the same as I always have, with a few barf inducing deductions, so this is more difficult for me than it sounds. I’m not the pregnant lady who sits around craving cookies and ice cream. My cravings include watermelon, cucumbers, grapes, pickles, and cashews. I’m trying to pack on the calories in the nut department, but it looks like I need to bring back my old friend pasta. Truthfully, I’ve been missing it, but whole grains make me feel like I need to vomit so I’ve been avoiding them. While white pastas aren’t the HEALTHIEST choice, I’ve been making do with fun options like spinach linguine and sundried tomato spaghetti. Just let me do what I want, okay!

Braxton Hicks contractions
These are super fun. It’s pretty much your uterus getting ready to give birth and “practicing”. Essentially your uterine muscles (and surrounding area) TTTIIIIIIIIIIIGHTEN up and HOOOOOOOOOOLD for a few seconds. Sometimes I can ignore them, sometimes I don’t even notice, and sometimes they leave me standing awkwardly in the middle of the sidewalk/road/mall/at work making a constipated face, gritting my teeth and panting. It doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t feel good.

Backaches
Do I even need to say anything about this? Back rubs are ALWAYS welcome.

Shortness of breath
My insides are so squished right now as Baby Girl grows that my lungs are compressed. Sounds awesome right? Right. If I could draw your attention to the diagram following, I’d like for you to note that no, in fact, that is NOT where your stomach is supposed to be. Where do all your internal organs go when you’re growing a baby? Nowhere. They get pushed, shoved, prodded, and crammed into every nook and cranny your body has available. Hills, stairs, our block, getting in and out of the car/bed/off the floor all leave me feeling like I’ve just run a marathon, only I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything when I’ve caught my breath and my face returns to it’s natural coloring.

Heartburn, Swelling, Spider veins, varicose veins and hemorrhoids
These are all just super fun indicators that my body hates me and biology is stupid. *tears*

Frequent urination
How frequent is frequent, you ask? Let’s just say…if I DON’T go to the bathroom every 1.5 hours AT LEAST, I had better have remembered to bring a change of clothes, and I will avoid laughing, sneezing, coughing, moving too quickly, or farting if it is at all humanly possible.

Vaginal discharge
………………………………….yeah.

SO! Needless to say, the third trimester is full of fun times. The Upside is…

Ups!

I am 11 weeks from my due date!!! Based on how early I am experiencing symptoms THIS time versus when I felt them last time I am optimistically telling myself that perhaps this child will come slightly early as opposed to Nova’s 2 days past her due date. Naturally, I know that every pregnancy is different, you can’t predict these things, BLAH BLAH BLAH, I don’t want to hear it. She’ll come whenever she is good and ready and I will entertain grandiose ideas of her arrival on December 1st, rather than the 4th, or 5th, or 6th, and so on. A word of advice? When a pregnant lady is trying to be optimistic about ANYTHING…just AGREE! Thanks.

We have officially selected our birth team! Nova’s hearty cheerleaders (and my saviors) were Cale (of course), my Mom, and the ever level-headed DG’s. I found having a support team of 3 was absolutely ideal and wanted to stick to that number. Sadly, the male DG may be unavailable this time around, but his lovely wife has been asked to commit to a repeat performance, my Mom is super on board (and reading up on doula practices!), and we’ve asked newcomer Tamara to come as well! I’m really excited to have a team of ladies (and of course, Ross, should he be around, because you never know when you’ll need a head lamp!). Being surrounded by calm, hilarious folks who want nothing more than to offer up their support and a little manual labor is so important to Cale and I and it’s an experience that we wanted to share with all three of these ladies for all different reasons. Not to mention that it will be fabulous for Nova to have her loved ones on hand to provide entertainment and distraction in the event that she is not that into hanging out while her sister makes her entrance.

I’ve been outsourcing as far as how to introduce to Nova the idea that a new addition is coming. She’s only 15 months so her understanding isn’t GREAT, but she knows that there is a baby inside Mommy, is very generous with her belly kisses when we ask if she wants to say “hello to the baby”, pats Mom’s tummy every morning, and is pretty fascinated watching the twists and rolls our little acrobat is performing in the womb. We’re slowly changing her room around to accommodate a second crib and girly-ing it up a little. Soon to arrive, pink curtains and some serious wall decor.

My sweet friend Tamara surprised me by announcing that she wanted to host a baby shower for me with the help of our friend Liz! (Mom of a couple of ADORABLE twin girls.) I wasn’t having the greatest day…heck…the greatest WEEK when she dropped the news and my reaction was pretty messy. Ha. I wasn’t expecting a baby shower at ALL for number 2, especially considering she’s following so closely on the heels of her big sister, but Tamara decided that it was going to happen and I couldn’t be more grateful. I’d been wracking my brain trying to think up ways to make this second lady feel just as special as the first and all I could come up with was a potential “meet the baby” get-together SOMETIME after the fact, but I tend to be overwhelmed easily in those first few weeks/months and people get busy and things come up so I really wasn’t sure when or if it would ever happen. I’m lucky to not only have such wonderful party planners, but wonderful FRIENDS who are gung ho to attend!! Don’t tell anyone, but I spend a lot of time marveling tearfully at how thankful I am for such an amazing group of friends/family. I’m terrible at speech delivering and outpourings of feelings, but my heart just swells thinking about the relationships we’ve formed and nurtured over the years, and while they tend to naturally ebb and flow we really have some amazing people in our lives. Nova, and this babe, are so lucky that they will get to meet and be a part of the family (biological and hand picked) we’ve managed to snuggle our way into over the years. ❤

Downs…:(

Aside from the usual discomforts that come along with being this far along, I have a couple extra goodies hidden up my sleeve. My SPD is much worse this time around and I have flare ups almost daily now. Especially if I’ve over-exerted myself the day before. By over-exerted, I of course mean that I spent time on my feet for more than 30 minutes at a time. Walking, working, exercising, rolling over in bed, standing in line, grocery shopping, even working the gas pedal in the car can all exacerbate my pelvis and force me to lie down with an ice pack or 3 until the occasionally agonizing pain dissipates. I’m not a baby, you guys. You won’t catch me writhing in pain in public because I don’t need to be babied or pitied. I’m going to take care of myself and this will all be over in 11 short weeks. If I decline any super fun sounding hikes or snowshoeing events, trust me when I say that no one is more disappointed than me, and I will be VERY glad when this portion of my journey into motherhood is complete.

At my most recent prenatal appointment they had me take a little survey to assess my mental health. Not unusual, but sadly, I scored a lot higher than they would prefer/is healthy. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in my teens but learned a lot of really awesome techniques when it comes to coping and pushing back any undesirable mental blocks. Unfortunately, I DID have a pretty rough battle with post-partum depression after Nova and I don’t think I had fully dragged myself out of that mud hole before pregnancy number 2 came upon me with a vengeance. It’s a pretty common misconception that everyone with PPD wants to drown their baby in a barrel. I never once felt like I was a failure as a mother or that I couldn’t care for my little girl. In fact, the opposite was true. I felt like that was just about the ONLY thing I could do. Not to mention that the severity of the disorder is so different for each woman (and sometimes their men as well) that it’s hard to say what exactly you’re going to feel like, or what symptoms you might exhibit. Fortunately, I KNOW what’s up with my brain and have an ongoing dialogue with my midwives about it so it’s a work in progress. Another fortunate thing is that my motivation to be a kick ass Mom to Nova drags me out of bed every morning, and out of the house just about every day, even if it’s just for 20-30 minutes of vitamin D in the form of a little sunshine.

If you want more info…feel free to follow the link:

http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/mh-sm/preg_dep-eng.php

Cale

You know Cale. He’s trucking along. He’s been working a lot. A LOT. Some weekends, some overtime, some extra in betweens. It’s pretty awesome, but I get pretty lonely, especially considering that I am also working 3-4 days a week on nights and weekends so every once in a while he takes a day off mid-week and we catch up and I get a bit of a break from parenting. He’ll do the dishes while I nap, take the kid to the park while I watch 30 minutes of a tv show…and nap, and do the whole bedtime routine…while I’m already sleeping. Ha. All the ups and downs aside, all of it would be much more overwhelming and exhausting without such an awesome, supportive husband.

He’s still pretty set on the idea of us having 4 children. That’s 2 more after this folks. I will be taking a much needed Body Break for a while.

Hal Johnson and JoAnne MacLoud want me to take care of myself! 😉

My appointments have been cut in half now. (Every 3 weeks as opposed to every 6.) And pregnancy number two is on it’s way out the door. I’m super stoked to meet this new little lady and smell her newborn smell and introduce her to her big sister, who I think is pretty spectacular. I am VERY excited to be the Mama of two girls and also find that I’m REALLY looking forward to giving birth again! I’ve been pretty blessed genetically (thanks Mom) and am really interested to see how this labor and birth differs from the first. In the meantime, I’ll be verbally expressing my third trimester woes in the best place for that sort of thing, an online forum full of other hormonal, sore, fed up pregnant chics, and I’ll spare you all the gory details, for now. Heh.