b a r e

writing is healing. ask me anything.

Tag: support

recovered?

A new mom asked this in a forum:

“Is there really an end to this.. Like 100% healed? I feel like what I have is too disturbing and terrible to ever go away.”

My answer:

I went through an outpatient program at a hospital and they talked about accepting a “new normal”. Now, I refuse to accept that this means my new normal is misery. But I don’t think we can ever go back to the person we were before we had our birth/postpartum experience.

Like any trauma, it has left a mark on our psyche. And so we have a choice about what to do with that. I’ve tried wallowing, and that worked for a while, but it got in the way of joy. I’ve tried hiding from the world, but I missed out on living.

So I’m at a place in the middle between where I used to be and the pit I had dropped into. Sometimes I need to wallow, and I give myself space to do so. But I don’t move back in there. Sometimes I need to hide from the world, and I accept that, that I don’t have the stamina of the extrovert I used to be. But I also challenge myself, just a little, and over time I see progress towards a new me. Wiser, stronger, but also weaker in some ways, and accepting of that part of me too.

And my story, and yours too, becomes something we can share with others who are somewhere along that tough journey of losing yourself and trying to figure who you are now. We bring each other strength because we have compassion and empathy and help heal each other. Because we understand the pain. And we’re not alone anymore.

what pieces, all put together, help keep you up

It takes a crew of about 100 people to help keep my mood up. Just kidding. But I’m lucky enough to have many different people in my life that help support my mental well being.

My husband. Even though he doesn’t fully understand my experience, he hangs around. He takes care of the things in our family that need to be taken care of so that I don’t have to. He’s not big on supportive words (I can’t remember the last time he specifically said something supportive), but instead shows his support by doing. It takes a little bit of effort for me to translate his method of love, but it’s valuable nonetheless. Knowing he’s there taking care of things allows me the space to fall apart if I need to. I don’t have to share how far I’ve fallen, but I can dive, and then I can climb back up, knowing he’ll still be there.

My friends. I have the best friends anyone could have. Not all of them know about my struggles. And only a few know how dark my night can get. But all of them love me no matter what, just as I am. I know that I can call on them (or, rather, text them), and they would do just about anything for me. I don’t reach out that often (rarely, really), but knowing they’re there and available if I wanted to reach out, can be such a lifeline when I’m sinking fast. It means that even though I feel like I’m utterly alone, I know I’m not. I hold onto the tether, the rope, because at the end of it is love, the anchor. I know they love me, no matter what. Even if I feel like I don’t deserve it, I know it’s there anyway.

After-care group. This group has literally been a lifesaver. I have lost count of how many times I have broken down, crumbled, split open. I have “lost it” in a place where so many others know exactly what that feels like. I have come apart at the seams, looked up and seen others holding up their threads too. I have never felt judged here, only complete support. Here is where I am reflected back to myself as someone strong, even when I’m feeling like wet cardboard. Here I’m told how far I’ve come and how much better I’ve become. Here is where I can measure my health, because these people, these walls, have seen my dark, crumbled core. Here is where I’m able to help others. Where I get to be a lifeline. Even when I’m empty for myself, I’m able to find hope for others. And even just offering up a tiny spark to someone else, helps refill my own tank. We’re in this together. We’ve got each others’ backs. We’re an army of strength and hope and love. We will survive, we will thrive.

Play

I don’t play much anymore. I used to with my close high school/college group of friends. It wasn’t that we played games, per se, but rather that with them I felt like the world was my playground. I had a curiosity and easy delight and a child-like perspective of the world when we were together. This is not something that came naturally to me. My childhood was harsh and cold and not the least delightful. So a break from my natural/conditioned realism and pessimism was such a relief. In fact, looking back, I can see that I collected friends that were child-like. Sure they could be flakes, perpetually late, irresponsible and ambition-less (like my mom), but they were fun. And I didn’t have to rely on them for my safety and well being (like my mom). And I didn’t have to see them or spend time with them unless I felt like it. But what a treat. Not the healthiest, but definitely tasty. A sometimes snack.

Nowadays I no longer have a group of friends to hang out with. They have all moved away – as close as San Diego and as far as Israel. I have a handful of very close friends that I make time to see individually. Time spent with them is very meaningful. It can be light-hearted, it can be intense, but it is always fulfilling. When it’s just the two of us, it feels like a secret world has been established. We are safe together, and we can play. It’s like a mini-vacation, peaceful and positive and fun. Refreshed and recharged, I can go back to my life of responsibilities and bring back with me some of the strength and joy.

Describe an event that changed your life forever

My life has been peppered with life-changing events, like signposts on a long and windy road. The first, and possibly biggest, was my parents’ divorce. It was only once we escaped that I realized a brutal and terrifying childhood was not normal. My understanding of my life and the world was turned upside down, and so many objects were thrown loose. It was exhilarating, the drama, the freedom. I was encouraged by therapists to let it all out – and so I did, everywhere and to anyone who would listen. I realized my story had value, like currency. In exchange others would share their struggles. And I was able to connect with many on levels deeper than the usual shallow exchanges. I was free, I was wild. I was the bad influence many parents wanted to keep away. But not because I did anything illegal or immoral – quite the opposite. Due to my mother’s neglect, my younger sister and I had to take care of ourselves. We were and continue to be very responsible. Many parents didn’t like me because I spoke my mind. Because I didn’t keep to “my place” as a child. I was honest, too honest. My eyes were open. Perhaps I was disrespectful. I didn’t see, nor wanted to acknowledge, arbitrary boundaries. There were also many parents who adored me, who figuratively adopted me and became one of my surrogate moms. Sometimes (often?) I liked them better than their kids. I connected better with them, I felt like they understood me. Memories fade, and I no longer remember the details of time spent with them. But they gave me guidance, acceptance and love that I so desperately needed. I carry them with me in my heart, even today. And I am forever grateful that they were placed in my path when I needed them.

Gratitude

Everyone is doing it on Facebook, so I’ll do it here.

I am most of all grateful for my husband. He’s not perfect, but no one is. But he is in it for the long haul. He took his wedding vows seriously, he is committed. And with that perspective, he will do whatever it takes to keep our family unit safe and healthy and running. Even when I can’t. And, when I can’t, he doesn’t judge. He simply keeps on keeping on. He hangs in there, even when I’m swinging all over the place. He holds steady. He is calm. The calm of a mountain. Immobile, unshakable. (At least, on the surface.) He is sweet and adorable and kind and generous. Our 5th wedding anniversary is coming up, and I still have a huge crush on him. Something about the combination of strength and shyness is wildly attractive to me.

My daughter. Oh how you test me. Like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, constantly looking for a weak spot in the fence. You mirror me, so I see both my positive and negative qualities reflected back in my face. You’re an eye opener all right. So stubborn and so persistent and such a drama queen (er, princess). Oh how you are able to hurt me. Oh how you are able to crush my heart. But then just a moment later be sweet and adorable, and utterly unaware of the consequences of what you do or say. Because really, my reactions say more about my own demons and ghosts. You are the ultimate test, lessons after lessons, forcing me to prove my life philosophies are practical. I am exhausted by you, but also obsessed with you. Your eyelashes. The fuzz on your arms and legs and cheeks. Those cheeks. Your chubby fingers, delicately posing as any princess would. Your breathing, your heartbeat. Through you I have wielded the knife of judgment against myself – having had lots of practice using it on my mother. I have cut myself violently. And through you I have laid that sword down. I have hugged you and rocked you and loved you, and in doing so have comforted my inner child. So much healing through you. I want to run away, and I want to scoop you up and put you back inside me. What a crazy mix of emotions this parenting thing is.

My friends. Oh my friends. You are my family. You have seen me so ugly. And you have seen my successes. And everything in between. And still you stay. I was sure you’d run screaming, many times. But here you still are. And you love me. Warts and stench and all. How or why, I don’t know. But I do know I am beyond grateful that you exist. That you have always stood by me. That I know you will always stand by me. That you will cry with me and laugh with me. And that you love me, as is, just the way I am.

Dead.

Finally. Fully. Completely.

My heart raced as I read the email, “I regret to inform you your father is dead.” Just a few minutes ago, I told a longtime friend that I just had to accept that you would never die. You’d cling to life with your fingernails, being around to scare us forever. And then, just like that, you expired. I was elated. I called my mom and we shouted and laughed. The world outside seemed brighter, the leaves greener, everything was sharper and in focus. I went with another friend to the coroner’s office to pick up your keys. She said you had died the morning before, around 11:30 AM. I liked to imagine you woke up early, like you always do, and lay there suffering, paralyzed, until your shriveled, black heart finally gave up hours later. I want to imagine that I gave a speech at your funeral where I told everyone the ugly truth about you. I like to plan going to your grave and pouring urine over it. But this isn’t making me feel the justified anger and superiority it used to. I don’t feel good about these thoughts. I just feel sick to my stomach, nauseated. And I didn’t just cry. I sobbed. I sat there in my car after leaving your apartment and I sobbed and my shoulders heaved and I screamed. I felt like a crazy woman. And as I sobbed I’d start smiling, and then my heart was filled with so much pain that I screamed again.

You’d love to know your trustee and full beneficiary showed up. She gave you an honored man’s burial, whereas I’d have had you cremated and flushed you, or unceremoniously dumped you in the trash (which is where I put your 30-day memorial candle, by the way). I don’t care that she gets all your crap. I cut ties with you long ago. That Will I found where you said I get “NOTHING!” I laughed. Of course. But her stories about how wonderful you were made me want to vomit. That’s what made me sick. You loved her children in the non-violent ways you never loved us. I wanted to yell at her to shut up. I wanted to tell her my stories. How you told me every night that if we ever tried to leave you’d chop off our heads and burn down the house. And then finally, during those 4 torturous hours at the mortuary, she finally let me tell her. I didn’t see her face, I was so lost in my pain.

I did a releasing meditation. The first step was to imagine the situation(s) that brought me pain. I was lost in the primal child’s experience of “please don’t hurt me” and “I’m so afraid.” Then the second step was to confront you, and boy I let you have it. Then, during the third step, I pushed you off my cloud and cut the rope and said, “I forgive you. I release you. I let go.” But it was too late. That box, those boxes, that I had shelved long ago, that I had built justified anger around, they tumbled off the shelf and it all spilled out. An ocean of pain. Every last drop. And I sobbed. I sobbed till I was wrung out, like a towel, dry and twisted.

And when I stopped, I started to be filled again, slowly at first, then so fast I was completely soaked with joy and gratitude. My life, my husband, my daughter, my friends who are my family – they love me so much. They would do anything for me. They are healthy (oh yes you are!) and positive and caring and so, so loving. And I am so lucky, so blessed, so grateful that this is my life now. So relieved and thankful of the decisions and choices I have made, not despite his torture, but because of it. This day and every day is so bright and beautiful because we can and will continue to bring in love and laughter to our lives. And we never have to live as he did or torture as he did or suffer as he did.

I can move forward now, untethered.

I leave the past behind me. And I walk forward with strength and gratitude and a new love for life.

Liar

I’m so frustrated. A voice, clear as a bell, says in my ear, “Give up.” I’m so exhausted, when will I feel better. I see the voice’s lips, “You won’t.” That voice is a kick in my stomach. I used to believe you when you said, “What’s the point.” I saw only the shadows, which weighed on me like a wet sack of sand. But I’ve pulled back the curtains to let the light in. And behind a pane of glass I see how lucky and blessed my life is. People who love me, who would do anything for me. A roof over my head, clothes to wear, food to eat. “It could be worse!” I yell at the voice. It starts to respond, “No, it couldn’t…” then is choked. All I hear now is the wind. Sure I can’t actually feel the joy on the other side of the window. But sometimes, it opens a crack, and I can smell the warmth on the inside. I know I’ve been in there before, I have vague memories. I can almost taste it. And one day I’ll get back in again. Meanwhile I’m going to wrap myself up in my hope to try to keep warm. And though the wind is cold and strong, I’m staying right here.

Dear Husband

I can’t be honest with you. I can’t tell you the depths of my emotions. I can’t fall apart completely in front of you. I can’t let you see me that way. I am so ashamed of my brokenness. I am so ashamed that I am not the strong, vibrant, dynamic girl you dated and fell in love with. I am so ashamed that I am not the wife you expected, the mother you wanted for your child, the partner you thought you had. I am weak. I am a blubbering pile of tears and snot. I have a body and a mind I can’t control sometimes. I am dependent on external chemicals to keep me mostly sane. I am dependent on sleep. I am not strong enough to give you a second child – even though I can’t stop thinking about it with both longing and dread. I can’t be trusted, at any moment I might fall apart, shattering into a million jagged shards. I am not worthy to be your wife. I don’t deserve to have you in my life. You deserve better than me. You deserve a life partner that is always strong and sane. You deserve someone you can always rely on, count on. I am a burden, another item on your to-do list, more work. You deserve to be taken care of, pampered, celebrated. You are true to yourself, beautiful inside and out, with the patience of a thousand angels. I know why you stay – you made a vow, a commitment. You want a family, and our daughter needs a stable household. Is it stable with me there? You say you need me – but for what? What do I bring? I need to know. I need to hear it. Because I am feeling so lost right now. Just a week ago I was so high. And now it’s all I can do to lift my head up. I know it’s not my fault – a change in meds leading to not sleeping. And yet if it were someone else not sleeping, it wouldn’t result in a bottoming out of everything. Another person might get cranky, but they wouldn’t lose their ability to function. I know I have positive traits – humor, intelligence. But is it enough? Do they make me worth staying with? In this time, when I am a drain on resources, here I am asking for more out of you. And I know in my heart you’ll give. Because you are someone very special. I don’t know how or why I lucked out on getting you.

What distorted thoughts about your personality or appearance are negative to your mental health?

I used to complain about my thick, long hair. It took 3 hours to dry. It was so heavy. It always got in the way. Man, I would give anything to have that again. Women are supposed to have long, beautiful hair – just look at the TV and magazines. And, in Southern California, just look around. To have long hair means youth, beauty, vitality, and fertility. Only the sick or dying have short or no hair. In the Middle Ages or Renaissance they’d cut the hair of women to punish them publicly. Well, just over 10 years ago my hairdresser told me there was a circle, the size of a quarter, of hair missing on the back of my head. It’s been a bumpy ride since then. I have spent most of those 10 years trying to hide it, feeling ashamed and ugly. I look in the mirror and see a stranger.

It’s time to embrace that stranger.

We’re all growing older, every minute. Which of us can look in the mirror and see the person we were 10 years ago? When we look, we see our flaws, our eyes are magnetically drawn. But when our friends look at us, they don’t see what we see. They see our smiles, our tears, the cute crinkles we get near our eyes when we laugh, they see our essence, our soul.

We are loved, just the way we are.

It is my challenge, and my goal, to remember this. To realize, recognize, that my value is not determined by the number of hairs on my head, but rather, by the love in my heart.

I see strangers looking, curiosity, sympathy. They probably think I have cancer. It’s funny almost, when I wear wigs I feel dishonest, like I’m hiding. And, now when I don’t, I almost feel dishonest as well, because the likely assumptions about my hair loss are inaccurate. Truth is, who we are shouldn’t be determined by how others see us. Our value is innate, inherent – we are already valuable without even doing anything. We already are valuable, just being. But which of us is so strong as to not be influenced by how others see us? Humans are social creatures – we need others.

It is my hope, and my desire, to surround myself with people that love me for who I am, and not what I look like.

Do you feel you see any significant changes in your personality/thinking as a result of your illness? What? Why?

All I’ve ever wanted was to be “normal.” Up until the age of 12 – when my mom, sister and I ran away to a shelter for battered women and children – I thought everyone’s home life was like mine. I only ever left the house to go to school, never had friends over, never went to anyone’s house. I didn’t know that most people didn’t live in fear while trying to love someone who could erupt and beat you with words and belts at any moment. When my eyes were opened at 12, I was angry, I was liberated. And I was very different than anyone I knew.

I tried, really tried to fit in. But now were were in an Orthodox Jewish junior high. And I was not like these other girls who came from wealthy families and had lived an orthodox Jewish life always. We didn’t live like that at home. And I didn’t have the benefit of years of indoctrination. I felt like I didn’t belong. Half of one thing, half of another, really neither of both. Finally, I begged to go to public school. And now, I was really not like anyone else. And since I couldn’t be like the others, I reveled in being different. I went goth. Black trench coat  black hair. You don’t want to know me anyway, so I’ll make it even harder. That way if you do become my friend, I’ll know you really wanted to.

Thankfully, my college years and beyond cured me of this intentional distancing. And truly, I still never felt like I belonged. But I was okay with that. I could live with it.

Then came my husband and my pregnancy, and despite pain and discomfort and exhaustion, I was doing something normal! I had joined a club of women who had gone through what I was going through. I was accepted! I was embraced as one of them.

Then came my traumatic birth and the lowest place I had ever been. And I felt utterly alone. And even though this too has been experienced by many many many women, I didn’t know. I was lost in worthlessness, shame, and guilt. It wasn’t until the ray of light shone in, and I hauled myself out millimeter by millimeter  that I finally saw the faces of those who had gone before me. I was not alone.

Well this second episode is not related to that birth, not exactly. It has shown me that this depression and anxiety is here to stay. Not in that I’ll always feel it. But in that I will always have to fight it, watch out for it, be careful because of it.

And now I am different again. I am not “normal.” And that does make me sad, sometimes. But I have also met some truly amazing people who are fighting these demons too. And they inspire me. They are brave and caring, they are generous of heart and mind and words. They accept me, as is, with no judgment whatsoever. They are mine. I claim you. You are one of me. I am part of you. Together we form a different normal. Together we are strong. Together we know we will succeed. And we know it’s okay too if sometimes we don’t succeed. Because ultimately we are family. Different backgrounds, different families, different cultures, different religions – no matter. We are one. And just knowing that you all exist bouys me with strength and fortitude to not give up. I reach out and you are there. And I know you will always take my hand. And I know that I am safe.