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Breakthrough, Mariah Warren

She sat across from him, the man she’d known for nearly two years, the man she never addressed by name, the man who read her like a book before she’d said anything.  She’d told herself (and everyone else) she would not see a male therapist; she felt more comfortable around women (although she could never identify an instance to explain why).  Yet, when he suggested it, offered to take her on, to become an intimate part of her life, she agreed.  Maybe it was his wry sense of humor, his awareness.  Maybe the fact that he reminded her of her dad (if in nothing more than name, ethnicity and gender).  Or maybe it was the sense of challenge, the knowledge that the time had come for her to question all of her past assumptions and beliefs, as, clearly, they had gotten her nowhere but in the psych ward with an ID band and a locked door.  With a grateful, curious “yes,” she agreed, and their journey began….

Ups and downs, she’d had them all- and yet, not what she wanted.  Session after session, she sat, trying to tell him anything and everything.  Sometimes she cracked jokes and so did he, laughing at her thick-headedness in a gentle, yet incredulous manner.  Sometimes, she’d grow dark, anger and frustration clouding her vision, and retreat into tense silence.  Not once did she raise her voice to yell, throw anything (well, except for that shoe, but she preceded that with the announcement that she would do so), or storm out.  And she never cried.  She felt sad from time to time, reflecting on her losses and grief, and on her hurt soul, but she remained drier than the Kalahari.  And here they were, yet again at an impasse, his eyes patient and questioning, her head down, as usual, lost in the frustration of her emotional drought.

“Can you look at me?,” he asked, knowing the challenge therein.  She raised her head and caught his glance, but quickly averted her eyes.  “I’ve already told you, it’s hard for me.”  “I know.  But don’t things get easier the more you do them?”  Arrgh.  No argument there.  She knew she needed to try, to get past this feeling of awkwardness, this fear of breaking down, so that she could break down and truly feel what had been buried all these years.  “Dammit!” she muttered.  “What?”  “Why do you always do this to me?”  “Do what?”  “You know.  Challenge me when you know I can’t refuse, that it’s my nature to obey authority.”  He chuckled.  Some beliefs you couldn’t change that easily.

She took a deep breath, slowly filling her lungs, prolonging the moment, and then brought her eyes to meet his.  Immediately, she felt the instinct to run, like a trapped animal, but she persisted, reassuring herself that she was in a safe place.  At first, she took in his entire face, noting his gentleness, his peaceful expression, calmly waiting, allowing her to be.  It overwhelmed her, the intensity of the experience, so she focused solely on his eyes, letting all else dissolve.  This time, it wasn’t a staring contest of silence.  She knew he’d be steady, keeping her gaze even if she started to falter.  She saw in his eyes wisdom and patience, caring and friendship.  She continued to look into his eyes, going ever deeper, until she saw someone else- someone both strong and weak, found and lost, a capable adult and a dependent child… herself… she was there, fully reflected in his eyes, no excuses, no pretensions… her soul, reflected in honesty and truth, ready to be reclaimed, honored, and loved.  He knew it, her saw her a she was, and wanted her to see what he saw.  But could she?  Could she accept his gift?

As she continued to look, something loosened within.  The vines of illusion and pain that had tightened around her heart eased their grip, allowing her to feel.  She heard the voice of her lonely inner child, crying in the darkness, and it brought tears to her eyes.  She was that lost little girl, all alone in her pain and confusion, and she wept for the first time.  Quietly, at first, allowing the tears to fall to her lap.  “What’s going on?” he asked gently.  She sighed.  “I feel so alone, so sad… I want my dad… I want him to give me a hug, to hold me in his arms and tell me everything’s going to be alright, that I’m doing what’s right for me and that he’s proud of me…” her voice trailed off.  “I know he’s gone, and I know I’m the adult now who can comfort the little girl, but…”  “But what?” he prompted.  “Well, I know this goes against your practice, but…”  He waited for her to finish; he knew what she was going to ask, but she had to admit it herself.  “Um, will you come over here and give me a hug?”  The words came out in a half whisper; she knew the answer had to be “no,” followed by “why do you want that?” or “what do you imagine would happen if I did that?,”  but that answer didn’t come.  As she sat, eyes closed, listening to her breathing, he got up from his chair and came around the desk to the empty seat beside her.  She stiffened slightly, excited at the prospect of having her need met and yet afraid of the experience.  He sat, allowing her the choice…. Slowly, she lowered her head, resting it on his shoulder.  He gently placed one arm around her, reassuring her that it was ok, that he was here for her… like her dad…. A flood of emotions washed over her, as she realized she could never have her father back again, that her therapist would always be there for her as a trusted guide,  but that he could not replace her father, nor could he give her the comfort she desperately craved.  She had to give it to herself, her adult self taking her inner child in her arms and reassuring her that all would be ok, even in the pain.  She cried harder at this realization, tears and sobs mingling with snot, a salty mixture reaching her lips.

She sat up, fumbling for a tissue, desperate to wipe it all away.  “Sorry,” she mumbled.  “Nothing to be sorry for,” he replied.  She blew her nose, laughing a bit at the jarring sound.  “Thanks,” she said, as the tears subsided.  “How’d that work for you?” he asked, teasingly.  She smiled, a light, wistful expression.  “Not like I’d hoped.”

“Oh?  Do tell.”  “I wanted that so badly.,.. but it felt…weird.  I realized I could never have my dad back, and that I have to be the parent I’m looking for and comfort myself.”  She sighed.  “Don’t know how I’m going to do that…. There’s still a lot of work to do…”

“Same time, same station?”  Their time was up.

“Guess so,” she exhaled, gathering her belongings.

“See ya.”

“Bye.”  And, holding hands, she and her inner child left, to figure things out.

_______

Mariah Warren lives with her husband, their three year-old son, and their cat.  She received her Bachelor’s degree in music (voice) and always has her hand in some creative project.  Mariah spent her formative years striving for academic greatness, and is now attempting to ease up on the perfectionism that accompanied that quest! This attempt has included countless hours of therapy, of which she’s a big proponent.  Mariah’s experiences with depression and anxiety, especially following the birth of her son, have inspired her to advocate for mental health awareness and the erasing of stigma.

 

Happy baby and mommy

Closer to Death Than Life Itself-The Story of Gabriel, by Yvette Adams

I’ve been wanting to write this piece for some time, but I had to make sure I was stable- at least semi-stable. That has taken around 8 months. I never found the words, nor did I have the courage to do so.

Unfortunately I don’t have all the ‘big’ words to describe what I experienced and I have the clinical psychological terms to describe my experience. All I know is what I will share with you, is the truth. As ugly as it will sound, it’s all true.

My third pregnancy was an extreme difficult and untimely one. I had just returned back to work from my 4 month maternity leave when I found out I was pregnant with Gabriel.  I felt guilty because I had just got back to work, the firm was relying on me. My husband was also obviously not please with me (as if I fell pregnant by myself). This is understandable of course.

In December 2013 just before our staff Christmas party we went for the first (12 week) scan to check that all vitals were fine. Everything was fine, and we decided to make the announcement that I was pregnant. With the second pregnancy, also a difficult one without being on medication, we took the decision to be fully medicated from the period of the pregnancy when it was safest.

We then we to Qatar to visit my parents for Christmas. I had forgotten my Lithium and Seroquel in South Africa so the only option Darryl and I had, was for me to sleep as much as possible. We missed a lot of activities as I only woke around 11, 12pm every day. But to keep me sane, that’s the only choice we had. We tried to avoid stress as much as possible, as that one of the big triggers for me. Although I struggled to fall asleep, we figured we were fine, un-medicated.

We arrived in South Africa early January and went for our next appointment in February. I was 20+ weeks it was time for the fetal abnormality scan. I tried to empty my bladder as much as possible before the session but it was still showing up on the screen. The specialist had a concern look on her face, and asked me to try and empty my bladder again. As I got ready to leave her room, she said, “I am not going to beat about the bush, there is something wrong with your baby.” I sat in that toilet and with my anxiety levels suddenly sky high, not a drop left my bladder. I clenched every part of my body, got dressed and made my way back to her room. I went to lie down again, and waited for the cold gel to touch my tummy. I was hoping that maybe she’d see a different picture, and her state-of-the-art machine was, not state-of-the-art machine was. And that it was wrong. But it wasn’t. And there were a few things, or indicators for possibly gene problems. I was devastated. Hubby was trying to keep our other baby calm. He was clearly bored during all of this. I’m glad he didn’t understand the severity of the situation. I’m glad he didn’t understand the major decisions we were about to take- deciding the fate of the life inside of me.

As she explained her concerns, I felt my throat set a light, a slow warmth moving upwards, bringing about tears to my tears. A lump in my throat like fire, burning for this little boy inside of me. She pointed at the massive cyst in his abdomen, “Do you see that? That’s a big problem.” She went on further and showed us the curved pinkie as well as the hole in his heart.” All these individually could mean nothing, could be fixed. But because they present themselves together, it is my duty to let you know I am concerned for this baby.” I don’t think anyone can describe that sinking feeling when a Doctor tells you that. We had just managed to deal with his untimely appearance, and then we find out there’s something wrong with him? Good God. What a roller coaster!

She called in my gynaecologist and he inspected the screen where my already showing belly showed a possibly sick baby. He said we need to make some important decisions, and ASAP. They both were in agreement about one big issue: I could not raise a child with a gene problem, like Down syndrome, while trying to manage my mental illness and running a household. They said it would be impossible. I was still stuck on, “there’s something wrong with my baby”. As they spoke and tried to soften the blow of abortion as much as possible- all I thought was, “this is my fault.” I beat myself up. Over and over again, I tried to think of reasons why this is my fault. I was convinced it was my medication. Something inside me kept throwing out self-blame attacks on me.

That’s when the seed of darkness grew. With the illness as a rich fertilizer, this pregnancy just became a fight of life and death for me- for baby and my mental health.

The extended session with both my specialists ended with them urging us to do an amniocentesis test. That’s where they stick a needle in your belly to get some of the amniotic fluid. The tests would be able to determine if there are any gene problems like Down syndrome and other rare conditions. The test is invasive and the obvious possible side effect is miscarriage. So, I could miscarry even if the tests showed that baby was healthy. I don’t remember the exact day we went but I know that due to how far I was in the pregnancy, we didn’t have long to decide to do the amnio, let alone if we were going to terminate if the results bad news. I think we had a few days (possibly over a weekend) to decide.

With me being a lot to deal with when I was ill, it wasn’t surprising that my husband was on the Dr’s side when it came to the possible termination of baby. I never wanted to terminate. Ever. But I did realise that had a point. How was I going to manage a child like that? While, I’m like, you know, this?

We reluctantly decided that I should go for the amnio test- to firstly know if there was anything wrong, and to know if God was punishing me.

Everyday was painful. Mentally thoughts of guilt spun round and round. Constant whirlwinds of blame spun round and round:

How could you do these tests? You could kill this baby healthy or not.

How could you want to kill your baby?

I swear if I didn’t have that Seroquel I wouldn’t have slept. My psychiatrist works with my gynaecologist and the foetal abnormality specialist and she adjusted my meds accordingly- basically increasing everything.

It was the day of the test. I had to go in alone. I lay there on the procedure table. The secretary came in to prepare the equipment.

“Don’t worry. She’s never caused a miscarriage in her years of doing this. You’re in good hands.” She said as she left.

“I don’t want to be the first.” I thought as the doctors came in.

As they did the procedure, the doctors created a pleasant atmosphere. The storm clouds of negativity floated above them.

I was immediately admitted to hospital thereafter for contractions- luckily it was just across the road. So husband and I took a stroll. I thought, “Hey, it’s all over now.”

I spent 3 days in hospital, every night hardly sleeping.

On the second day my psychiatrist came to visit. The hospital was very close to the psychiatric clinic down the road. Convenient. She’s really been my lifesaver for the last 2 years. What we spoke about is a blur, but I felt that same lump in my throat, but I wouldn’t let it steam my eyes up. I had to strong. I had to be hard.

On the third day I received the call.

The first set of tests were clear. Suddenly I was more Christian that ever.

Thank You God.

Now we just had to wait a few more hours to see if there was any indication of a miscarriage. And thanks to God, once more, all was clear.

Although all was fine, with regards to any gene issues, we still had the hole in the heart as well as the big cyst in his stomach. With every follow appointment, I grew more and more anxious. I also developed other strange symptoms, like a rapid heart rate, increase in temperature and strange abdominal pains. At the last visit, we were told the cyst was gone. What a miracle!

But, hubby and I didn’t want to take any chances so with every scare, we’d go to hospital or call my gynae. I was so anxious. Every day, every moment like the pregnancy was about to end. In the early hours of one morning, I woke up, and I had been bleeding.

We rushed through to the maternity ward. They pumped me with meds to stop the contractions. It was way too early for such drama. In my mind: “this is the end. This is the end. This is the end.” I felt like I was spinning in mind, while standing still, unable to connect to the reality of what was happening. I couldn’t touch reality.

My gynae drove from his holiday to come see myself and another one of the patients in his care. He conducted some checks, but couldn’t determine the cause of the bleeding, nor the contractions. All he said was, cancel the sex (as if I was really up for it) and relax. I stopped working for a while already, my psychiatrist had booked me off till the end of my pregnancy. So, I was relaxed, wasn’t I? I should have been. But I think mental illness affected me in a way where my anxiety fueled the turmoil the bipolar inside. Even though I wasn’t at work, I was scared of what they thought of me, that I was unreliable, I thought about clients I worked with- ideas I had for working papers, ways to improve inter-employee relations. Intense bombs of ideas going off in my mind, all related to work. While all this noise was going to, I had to consider my psychiatrist’s suggestion to stop working for a while. She said I need to take time to deal of the illness, learn to run a household and work on not being pregnant.

After 2 days in hospital, the contractions subsided and the bleeding lessened. Another thank God moment.

The following week I was back in hospital. It was May and I missed my husband’s birthday. More guilt. Oh fuck, like I needed that. I was flustered all the time, saw black spots, was ginormous- everyone thought I was due or carrying twins. I was only carrying one baby boy, Gabriel. At that point I was 32 weeks pregnant.

This time the contractions were stronger, and baby’s heart rate was too fast. That was monitored often, but often enough to keep my anxiety levels down. I kept requesting for the CTG to be done more than the Dr requested. I looked like a crazy person, but so what, I was. I am.  The nurses entertained my requests- we saw baby’s heart rate slow down, but my heart rate was still elevated. The Dr said he thinks it was due to the Lithium or the Seroquel. I didn’t agree.

On the morning of 4th the May, I was told I could go home. I took a shower and got dressed. All my things were packed and ready. One of the matrons asked me if I’m okay. I said I think so, and described a sharp pain in my side. She asked that we do one last CTG. We did, and she called the gynae. I was contracting, again. She came to me and told me that he then then decided we’re doing an emergency c-section. That lump of fire in my throat melted and I felt my eyes steam up. “Call your husband. Is he far? We’re doing to c-section in 15minutes. “

Oh my.

I called him immediately and I heard my voice shake as I told him to hurry. I tried to control my voice as one of the other nurses shaved me down there. I didn’t want her to think that she was making me emotional.

It was a rainy Sunday. I hadn’t heard the rain before pour down like that before.

The nurses and theatre staff hustled in and out of my room. This baby will be born in a few minutes I thought to myself. I’m not ready. I’m too scared. I’m still crazy.

They wheeled me into the operating room and tried to do the spinal block. For some reason, the tissue around my spinal column was too swollen and tender to get the needle through. That’s something I really need to take note of- especially that it could be a reason why I had been experiencing chronic pain in my lower back for a year already. They gassed me instead.

When I woke up, I was in so much pain. My pelvis was on fire. If felt like someone ripped my flesh open and barbecued by insides.

My husband came in and tried to talk to me, show me pictures of baby. My mouth was dry and the pain was overwhelming. There was one picture that stood out for me. He was on a ventilator and my heart broke. “I’m sorry, I can’t speak now. It’s too much pain.” I was hurting for that baby too.

They moved to a room where I were to stay for the rest of my duration of the hospital visit. A nurse came in and asked if I would like to see my baby. I said no. I saw the pictures and I’m sore. She said he wasn’t breathing too well, but he should be fine. They constantly monitor him. I was glad for him. Maybe it was better that he was out of me.

I waited for my husband to come to the hospital before I went to go visit the baby. Hubby gentled squeezed my hand- just reassure me: everything was going to be okay. Sometime false hope is nice. He showed my all the procedures in the Neonatal ICU (NICU) in terms of cleanliness and introduced me to the nurses. I went to the incubator and cried. He was so small, and delicate and trying to survive. He was wrinkled and it was extremely difficult to see him like that, let alone touch him. “You can touch him. He really like that.” The nurse who was dedicated to look after him said sweetly. I touched his arm. I stroked his fingers. I cried a little more, but softly. I didn’t want him to feel my intensity. I didn’t want to hurt him. I decided to sit there and watch him instead. They put him on my chest, he connected to all sorts of machines and with one of the tubes I fed him. Down his nose, straight into his stomach. I was so sorry he had to come early and make this, his life.

Days went by and I grew closer to him, I even managed to change his nappy. It was a challenge, something so delicate needed a nappy change, but there so little stomach, bum and legs to coordinate. Day in and day out I would need to travel from home to get to the hospital. My sister would help to drop me and fetch me some days. Other days I couldn’t go because myself and hubby developed flu and gastro. For health reasons, they don’t allow you in. You were welcome to call for updates of course.

The days I couldn’t be there were the most challenging- I felt like a bad mother. I also felt like I was a bad mother because I couldn’t be a good mother to the boys who were at home. I cried often, burst into tears at restaurants- it was all unbearable for me. The intensity was too much. Everyone needed me, I need myself, a healthy version of myself.

I decided to do positive things, like buy baby clothes. Clothes and things for when he came home. After 3 weeks of him being in the NICU, it looked like he would come home soon. He started to suck on a bottle, and thus they were hopeful he’d “seen the light. His weight was perfect for being discharged too. One Friday, after I had my lithium levels done, I walked around in the mall – I had just bought a few essentials for the little one. Then I got a call from my husband, he was on his way to pick me up. He said the Paediatrician called him. Our baby was due to be rushed by ambulance to a different hospital. He had to go for surgery urgently. I broke down right there and called my sister. She tried to calm me down- it helped, that and a million onlookers staring at me also helped.

We rushed through to the hospital. Obviously a mess we asked the nurses for answers. They all said we should wait for the Dr. They offered for me to drive with the ambulance where baby’s incubator was. I knew I wasn’t strong enough so I declined. I just wanted to know what went wrong. We thought everything had been going better.

It is excruciating to see your tiny baby in an incubator and wheeled into an ambulance. Never have I felt so hopeless. This is the end, again. It’s really ending this time. We arrived at the specialist hospital in the evening- still waiting for the surgeon to make contact. The nurses didn’t have any concrete diagnosis for us: all we knew was that we going to operate in the morning. We stayed while they bathed him and set him up. Wires, tubes and nappies. This time he couldn’t feed because of the surgery. So they hard to starve him. Just after he started sucking!

I was so sad to see my baby in that state. We tried to answer questions as much as we could, regarding his symptoms. I felt like I knew nothing, yet I had been at his side more than his father.

I must have cried all the way home- I don’t think I had tears left. This lump in my throat stayed alight until the next day, till after the surgery. I  was consoled by many- but nothing could stop the my heart breaking when I saw him come out of the surgery. He looked like he was in such immense pain. I know that the staff were doing all that could, but every breath he took brought him so much pain. Because of where the surgery took place, literally his abdomen hurt with every breath he took. It was painful for him to fight; to live. It reminded me of my darker days during the pregnancy. I’d lay in bed and think how difficult it was to live. My eyes would dart to the cell-phone charger cord and I’d imagine wrapping it around my neck. Just to end it. Even just end that thought and the flurry of dark clouds that came with it.

Birth 2

He stayed in the hospital for 7 days. The formal diagnosis for Gabriel was Meckel’s diverticulum. That cyst he had during the pregnancy resurfaced and as he started drinking more and more in his feeds, the cyst was filling with his feces. So the infection in his umbilical cord the nurses noted was a sign on internal infection- and hence they had to operate urgently.

He recovered, but to this day, I don’t know if I’m fully recovered. He still has a definite scar across his whole abdomen- I see it with every bath and nappy change.

Sometimes, I still think that he won’t have a tomorrow. Every second I’m worried he’ll stop breathing. Yet, every second he takes another breath. Every second I spend with him his precious.

For me this experience was extremely traumatic and going back to work was not an option. When we discussed me not going to back to work, my husband (rightfully) said, “We can’t afford for you not go back to work?” “How can we not?” I asked. I had felt depleted, disconnected from all my children. I felt like a sad and empty mad person.

I’m working through it. I know that I was good at what I did in my career, and I had so much potential. But for now, I’m trying to hide the ghosts of that traumatic pregnancy. I’m trying to live without fear of losing Gabriel. I’m trying to live without giving in to any trigger. That cell phone charger cord still haunts me. It reels me in some days and I am only saved by the cries of my children who distract from my pain.

______________

me

It’s Okay For Me To Not Be Okay, Tempest Rose

The other day I went to visit my old boss, as he was closing the restaurant for a few months and I wanted to see him before he did (plus the food is amazing). We engaged in some small talk and chit-chat and then I mentioned that I have seen a psychiatrist and have been diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I’m very (sometimes too) open with my diagnoses, so this isn’t out of the ordinary.

What also isn’t out of the ordinary was his response. He told me I’m fine, that everyone is Bipolar and anxious and that I’m not truly “crazy” (my word, not his — I have taken ownership of it, but that’s another post). He said I’m “normal”.

Well, here’s something to chew on — I’m not normal.

I fight, everyday, to stay afloat. I suffer with long bouts of depression and/or mania, I have panic attacks and anxiety attacks. I don’t know what normal is. (I know, there’s no such thing as normal, but let’s not get into that now, shall we?) I have to dissect every single thing I do to make sure it isn’t the result of one of my diagnoses, to make sure I’m making the right decision, instead of just living. I am mentally ill — or mentally different — like it or not.

I am an addict. I wake up every day with my addiction on my shoulder, wondering if today’s going to be the day I relapse. I spend my time fighting off my demons and telling them no, not this time. I see my friends die and I cry. I see the scars on my arms and hands and I cry. I get tested more than any person should and I cry, no matter what the results.

I am not normal. And that’s okay. I’m okay with not being normal. I’m okay with my illnesses and disease, because they’re mine. They’re mine to bear and to live with. But don’t you dare tell me I’m normal until you’ve walked in my shoes. Don’t tell me Bipolar is not a big deal, and that everyone has it, until you’ve had it. Don’t tell me you’re anxious when you don’t spend days on end trying to pull off your own skin to stop the crawling feeling. Don’t tell me I’m okay, because I’m not.

It’s okay. It’s okay for me to not be okay.

I live with the opposite of the normal stigma; with the “nothing’s wrong with you” stigma; with the stigma of denial. Those close to me refuse to believe that something could be wired differently in my pretty little head; they say my problems are excuses for me to act out or be lazy. But they don’t understand. They don’t know what it’s like to not want to live, to neglect their children, to not be able to stop the nothingness. They don’t know what it’s like to almost see yourself from afar doing all these horrible things but not being able to stop. They don’t know what it’s like to wake up one day and wonder what the hell they’ve done. They don’t know what it’s like to want so badly to do something but to be crippled in fear. They don’t know.

So stop telling all of us that we’re okay. Sometimes, we’re not.

_____________

Tempest Rose has a story to tell, knowledge to share, and opinions to be voiced. She feels like she doesn’t belong and she wants to make a difference. She is dedicated to spreading truth, awakening minds, and changing the world. She recently started her journey in mental health treatment, and also writes about an array of topics such as gender, addiction, abortion, and pretty much anything that’s controversial. She can be funny, too . . . sometimes. To read more of her work, visit her personal blog, Nonsense & Shenanigans. She also is a contributor for Bipolar Parenting Project (and Stigmama!).