Bell Let’s Talk Day – Momming with Mental Illness

So I’ve been away for a while.  First, I took some time off for Christmas.  Then, I realized I was online too much, so I wanted to sort out my priorities… and then, my depression acted up.  I like to think of depression as something like arthritis: it’s always there, but sometimes it “acts up.”  In many ways, to me, that’s the most accurate description of depression.  I can still get out of bed.  I can still interact with people, and laugh, and chase my kids.  But it’s harder – almost impossible – on the mornings where my depression is acting up.  It can be affected by the weather: I have a much harder time dealing with depression on cold, dark days than on sunny ones (though this is not always the case).  In addition to the physical similarities, I also see a commonality in the way that people treat depression and arthritis.  If you have arthritis (or any chronic pain condition, like fibromyalgia), you know what I mean when I say this: people don’t want to hear you talk about it.  The first time you are with someone and you are having a flare-up, you tell them about your condition and they are sympathetic.  But if every time you’re with them, you move slower, or you complain (or even mention it), they eventually get tired of hearing about it… or at least it sure feels that way to you.  So you start to pretend that it DOESN’T bother you.  You smile through the winces; you get up and participate, even if all you want to do is sit and cry.

That.  That is depression.  Or at least what it is to me.

I have what is called, in some schools, “high functioning depression” because I can live a “normal” life, even when in the throes of mental illness.  I can camouflage.  I smile, instead of crying.  I play with my kids, and talk to friends, instead of staring at a wall.  I work, instead of sleeping.  I have learned what I look like when I’m “normal” and I emulate those behaviours as closely as possible.  I usually feel like people just don’t want to hear about it (even if that’s simply not true, it’s how I FEEL when I’m there), and that I can’t use it as an excuse for withdrawing from the world, because my friends/coworkers/family deserve better than that, even if it’s what I need for my own well-being.

And this is especially true as a mom.

How do you explain to a 2 year old that you literally can’t talk to her because it is taking every ounce of your energy just to be in clothing?  Or that you can’t walk to the playground today because the struggle to put together more than one-word sentences is simply too overwhelming a task?  My desperate desire for her not to see me having Rochester’s-first-wife-in-the-attic moments is so strong that I power through.  My intense need not to somehow pass this on to her, like some kind of mental flu.  It’s like jr high track and field: you HAVE to participate, even if you’d rather cut your own legs off than race the 800 meter today.  I get in my lane and run the damn race; it’s just that I’m running the race in knee-deep mud, so every stride takes 10 times the effort that it should.  And even when I know it’s not true, it feels like my lane is the only one with this mud in it – like somehow all the other moms got clean lanes.  So I’ll show up.  I’ll race.  I’ll put on my runners, I’ll get in my lane, and I’ll run this damn race like my lane isn’t full of mud.

And the cycle, as vicious as it is, requires that I then recharge from the herculean effort of doing something totally innocuous with copious amounts of sleep.  If you’re a mom, you already know the punchline: sleep is not something easy to come by as a parent.

That’s it.  I don’t have advice.  I don’t think of myself as somehow “better” than other people with depression, just because I can force myself out of bed.  Trust me, there are days when I can’t.  I understand the crushing weight of it.

So, moms out there with depression – I feel you.  A wild, sad, emphatic salute to you in your struggle.  For days when you show up, and days when you can’t.  Days where you smile and laugh and chase and tickle and days when you stare at a blank wall while your baby naps.  For the times you swallow what you want to say and say “I’m fine” and days when you can’t, and you cry when you’re asked if you’re alright.  Stay strong.

This is my annual post for Bell Let’s Talk Day.  I started trying to be more open about my mental illnesses several years ago, starting with a post on Bell Let’s Talk Day on facebook that marked the first time I ever openly anounced my struggles, and I want to end this one the same way I’ve ended them all: if you are struggling, reach out to someone (if you can) and know that you are NOT alone.  If you aren’t struggling, reach out to someone who might be.

POTTY TRAINING

So life with a toddler and a baby is, as expected, insane.  But the previous level of insanity reached a new level of crazy this weekend when we decided to potty train G.

Backtrack a second.  We actually decided to potty train her like, three months ago, but we went about it in the way that I go about everything: half-assed.  And you cannot half-ass potty training.  You must whole-ass potty training.  Ass-and-a-half, even.  Prior to Friday, G had peed on the potty ONCE successfully and it was after my mom sat with her on the potty for an hour and a half with stickers.  I had gone to Toys R Us around her second birthday and bought a potty for on the toilet, and a portable seat for when we went out.  I switched her to pull-ups, and occasionally I’d ask if she needed to go to the potty, but that was it.  I was doing basically nothing, but at the same time I was frustrated because it wasn’t working.  So I went and bought an elmo stand-alone potty.  I had sticker books, special search-and-find books and a renewed determination to… do exactly the same amount of nothing.

Four months pass.  I get no sleep.  Daycare will only support what I already have in place, but wont potty train her for me (the nerve of them, refusing to parent my child and making me do it), and the after-daycare hours are so crazy that seriously I blinked and those four months were gone.  MY plans to have her potty trained before the snow was wiped out by both my own inaction and Edmonton’s early snowfall (which has trapped me in the house like some sort of domestic version of The Revenant).

But wait!  Here comes a three day weekend!  Didn’t my mother-in-law tell me that it only takes three days to potty train a toddler if you dont let them wear pants?!  PERFECT!  So when Friday rolls around, we get G from her room and… take her pants away.  At first, she was really upset because she loves her pants (they have cats on them.  Cats.  I’m such a dog person and my kid freaking love cats.  I think it’s evidence that she’s already going to be a rebellious teenager) and then, when we slowly tried to take her pull-ups away, things got a bit hairy.  See, her pull-ups have “Mickey” (it’s totally Minnie) on them, and it was like we were torturing her by not allowing her to wear them.  After a few attempts at distraction, we put a towel on the floor and took out her favourite puzzle, and she thought making “bum marks” on the towel with her penaten-coated rear was hilarious, so we were out of the woods.

Then we hunkered down to wait it out.  Everyone has told us that potty-training is the hardest and worst part of parenting, so we were prepared for the worst.  We had coffee.  We had snacks.  We weren’t leaving until she was potty-trained.  We set a “tinkle timer” on my phone for 20 minutes.  We gave her as much water-diluted apple juice as she could drink (and holy shit can she drink a lot) When the tinkle timer went off, we went to the potty.  At first she thought this was a hilarious game, and would hang out on the potty and read her new Richard Scarry word book.

The novelty wore off quickly.

Soon the tinkle timer was a source of mini tantrums, so we turned it off.  And it happened!  She stood up, looked at me and said “the pee is coming” and we ran to the toilet and it happened!  And there was no going back: she didnt have a single accident that first day.  We patted ourselves on the back for being such exceptional parents.

Saturday.

I spent the entire day in the bathroom on Saturday.  I Swear.  She had tasted success (it tasted like watered down apple juice, I assume) and wanted more.  Now she got her big girl underwear (it has Paw Patrol characters on it so we sing the theme song constantly – or at least the one line from the theme song that I know) and she wasn’t going to risk getting Skye or Marshall “wet.”  We did have our first accident, but it was because she was so excited about her puzzle that she didn’t want to go to the bathroom, so she peed a little while working on it.  But she told me right away and we went to the potty and it was all golden.

Sunday was the real test.

On Sunday, we left the house.  We went to dance class in the morning – no accidents.  We had our first legitimate accident at a restaurant that night when she told me she had to go and I let her leave the bathroom before she had gone to the bathroom (my fault, but seriously Tony’s Pizza was calling me back to the table!)

So where are we at now?

Well, this sounds like we had an incredibly successful weekend and, honestly, I would say that’s true.  We bonded a lot, she learned to tell me when she has to go to the bathroom, and it seems like she’s really got this when we are at home.

BUT

BUT

She does not want to use the potty at daycare.  It means that she has to stop playing to go, and they are spread too thin to set a 20 minute tinkle timer, or sit with her on the potty for 40 minutes waiting for her to pee, and I get it.  But it’s undermining the process for sure.

And she does NOT have it together for naps/bedtime.  That will be a big issue going forward, and I have no idea how to approach it.  She can’t get out of her room on her own, and we don’t have the kind of monitor in her room where we can hear her all the time – we use a Nest cam, so we can open it on our phones to see her, but it’s not like we would hear her saying she needs to use the potty unless we HAPPENED to be watching when she did.  So if anyone has any ideas here, I’d love to hear them (and then probably ignore them for like 4 months before I give in and half-ass them…as I do).

And here is the biggest one: we have noticed that during this process, her attachment has gone through the roof.  It’s heartbreaking.  Beditme and daycare time have gone through a HUGE regression since Friday.  I know we just have to ride it out, but it’s awful in the meantime, and it’s going to get worse because I’m a masochist and I’m going to start sleep-training L right away here… ugh why.

AND (whiney rant coming)

GOD I ALREADY MISS DIAPERS.

I know.  I know.  Who MISSES diapers??  ME!  I DO!  Do you know what I  hate more than cleaning my toddler’s poopy butt?  Sitting on the ground in a public toilet for fourty minutes waiting for her to poop and then STILL HAVING TO WIPE HER POOPY BUTT!  She’s GONE MAD WITH POWER!  She knows that I have to run with her to the potty if she says she has to go, AND SHE’S ABUSING THE TINY MODICUM OF POWER SHE HAS BEEN GIVEN!  This kid should NEVER be allowed to hold a position of authority – it WILL corrupt her!

 

Next up: sleep training.  I know there are a lot of opinions about it out there, but I’m going to talk about my experiences and opinions in my next post.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your experiences with potty-training and what has worked for you!

 

xo

Mediocre Mom

A Hundred Excuses

I haven’t posted in a month.  I have a hundred excuses why.  Some are more valid than others, but none of them are the full truth.

Excuse 1: I had family come in for a visit.  They drove from Ontario to visit with us and, as the designated stay-at-home-for-right-now mom, I was more than happy to escort them about the city, showing off the place I love.

Excuse 2: Holidays.  Between thanksgiving and Halloween, a lot has been going on.  G had her first movie experience, we have carved multiple pumpkins.  We have baked and eaten that baking.  I have gained back all of the weight that I had lost… you know what they say: Thanksgiving is the beginning of the end for every weak-willed dieter.

Excuse 3: I am a bridesmaid in a wedding and the bachelorette party was in Canmore last weekend.  A LOT of my focus had to go into that.

Excuse 4: L is in a BAD sleep regression.  G had them when she was a baby, but not like this.  I am getting absolutely no more than 90 minutes of sleep at night and only a few small breaks during the day.  I love him to little bits but I may leave him in a box on the side of the road with a “Free Baby” sign pretty soon.

 

Ok so not 100 excuses, but four.  Again, all of them real reasons why I have been lax in my blog posting duties, but none of them cover all of it.  The real reason was one that I hadn’t been able to recognize until I was at my book club last Thursday.  My book club, which has only had two meetings so far, is made up of women that I’ve never met, all of whom are small business owners or entrepreneurs.  They are incredible.  Beautiful inside and out, these women work their tails off to live their dream and to make their visions reality.  I was overwhelmed, surrounded by them, by how strong and utterly RELENTLESS they are.  Our book for October was “Thrive” by Arianna Huffington and while we all agreed that it was sort of “meh” overall, it had a few interesting points that became deep conversations for us.  One of the key points was hit on the head by one of the other women: we are constantly told to question our own abilities and value.  We have these deep desires and wants in our lives… oftentimes involving dreams we want to pursue.  But we stop ourselves.  We stop because we think of finances.  We think of responsibilities.  We think, most of all, “who am I to do this?”

And that line is what struck me.  “Who am I to do this?”  She was speaking of her own experiences, and yet it was like she was giving voice to the fear that hides in the back of my head: Who am I to think that I am worth hearing?  Who am I to think I can speak to this or that?  Who am I to think anyone wants to hear what I have to say?

For all of the many concrete reasons I had given myself for putting off posting, this was the one that they hid: my deep insecurity that no one should care what I have to say; that it is arrogant for me to think that what I have to say is worth being heard at all.

I recently read a piece by Joan Didion that talks about self-respect and the struggle to find it.  She likened it to a “well-lit back alley” where all of our self-knowledge waits to essentially mug us with the truths behind our masks and self-image and reputation:  here lurk the truths you can hide from everyone but yourself.  I think I LIVE in that back alley.  I am never unaware of my failings, big and small.  I still think about the time I called a kid a bad name in grade 4 and that one time I didn’t stand up for my mom when I should have.  I’m aware of the frustration I feel when I’m with my daughter – the short-tempered cruelties that shame me deeply.  I can’t pretend with myself to be any kind of parenting sage because I know too well the truth of myself, and to write any kind of piece that says otherwise is to be inauthentic.

It’s a funny duality that I have found in motherhood: I jealously remember the times in my life when I was truly seen, now that I am permanently relegated to the background of my children’s lives.  I once was the sun, with everything orbiting around my life, but now I am just one of those planets, orbiting G and L while they shine.  I guard the precious memories of my life BEFORE when I was Danielle and not just mom.  When I had interests and independence.  But the irony is that I think my greatest fear is to be truly seen now.  To be seen in my inglorious moments, my frustrated ones, my shameful ones. It’s one thing to embrace the messiness of parenthood – there is a deeply funny side to the trivial failings of our day-to-day lives: the spilled milk, the spit up accidents, the blow-outs.  There is a black humour to the first time your kid repeats the word “fuck” or accidentally does something inappropriate with total, pure innocence.  But it’s a different beast to look at our real failings as parents and as people.  Those are moments we do not want to be seen… and they are moments that I feel I have had more of since I became a mom.

And yet, I believe there is value in it.  I think that there are those moments where seeing someone else be vulnerable allows us a greater connection to both ourselves and one another.  I believe that we are closer when we see each other as human.  Especially in a time where social media makes it difficult to separate someone’s PROFILE from her LIFE.

So I’m back.  I have to believe that there is a value to what I want to say.  Perhaps it will be uncomfortable – for me, for people who read it – but perhaps there is value in that.  If I want to raise a daughter who sees value in her own thoughts and voice, I have to find that value in my own.

Fingers crossed.

 

xo

Mediocre Mom