The Luxury Of Mental Health

If you’ve read my blog, you know I have OCD and anxiety. I’ve written before about how my ability to get into a psychiatrist within a week of my mental breakdown was solely dependent on who I knew and how much I was willing to pay. Sad, but true.

Upon my diagnosis five years ago my psychiatrist would only prescribe meds if I was in therapy. I participated in talk therapy for about six months before the therapist felt I no longer needed it. Honestly, I was happy to stop. The experience of going was, in itself, anxiety inducing. Not every therapist’s style fits every patient. Not what you want from therapy.

Prior to that, I had gone to therapy in college. Again, not life changing, but it was free. You can’t beat free therapy.

Fast forward five years and three kids.

I’m lucky that my family physician will prescribe my meds. I don’t have to wait the four-six months to see a psychiatrist. ‘I’m sorry you’re having a mental crisis but you’re going to have to wait four months to see someone. Let’s just hope for the best while you wait.’ (This is the actual wait time to see a psychiatrist. I didn’t just make it up.)

Meanwhile, one of my best friends is a huge advocate of therapy. She goes regularly and loves it. And often encourages me to go.

I’ve reached a point in my life that I know I would benefit from good therapy. So I looked into it. The average cost of seeing a clinical psychologist in the area is $150/session. Guess how much insurance covers; $0.

On the flip-side, it costs me $12 to get meds for 45 days. It’s a lot easier to justify $12/month compared to $300 for two therapy sessions. And yet, I know the research. I know how much therapy would help.

Three hundred dollars. It’s not an easy decision. It’s budgeting and reworking our schedules to make it fit. But, for me it is a decision I get to make. There are plenty of individuals that desperately need it and it isn’t an option. They simply can’t afford to spend the $150 or take the time off work. Instead, they leave it untreated. Or, if they’re lucky, take the meds.

In his interview on The Hilarious World of Depression, Reggie Osse made the point, “I think the issue is not only that mental illness is a stigma, but mental health is a luxury.” I think this explains why we have a mental health crisis in this country.

 

Unexpected Fights

Betsy and I are four plus years into this parenting gig and there are just some fights I never imagined I would have. Granted many of these can be settled with a game of rock, paper, scissors. But sans kids, I never knew these discussion existed. You don’t know what you don’t know. (Name that musical!)

  1. Who has to brush the kids’ teeth. Seriously, this shit sucks. And when you have three that need assistance it sucks even more.
  2. Food. What they eat? When they eat? How much they eat? Where they eat? This is a big one. And not solved with a hand game. I never realized how much society pushes food norms on us until we had kids. (I’m convinced this is why so many people have eating anxiety.) Betsy likes the three meals a day, breakfast as soon as they wake up regime. I let the kids eat five spoonfuls of peanut butter for dinner if that’s what they want. Seriously, this should be addressed in pre-kid convos.
  3. Sleep. This one is two-fold. Creating healthy sleep habits being part one. Kids one and two required some sleep intervention to make it thought the night. Kid three figured it out on his own. Betsy always wanted to come up with a sleep plan at 3AM when she was waking up with the baby and couldn’t do it anymore. FYI, nothing good comes from 3AM fights. Part two is getting toddlers to stay in their f-ing room! This battle hit me like a freight train. I never knew they could be so manipulative to avoid bed. I’ll be honest, we haven’t found an overly successful method. But I promise, taking it out on your spouse isn’t the solution.
  4. Birthday parties. It’s my mini version of hell. Small talk with other parents about who’s kid is better. This is a topic with a post of it’s own. Needless to say, I typically feign sick to get out of taking them.
  5. Cleaning up. Another big one. At some point you will threaten to get rid of every toy. Which seems reasonable until you realize you’ll then have to entertain your child which is fun for about 5 min. I go with the “clean up or go to your room” method. Needless to say, we still have too many toys and a living room that often looks like an episode of Hoarders.
  6. And finally, how to handle crying/shitty behavior during carefully planned “fun time.” Because your child will inevitably act like a shit when you are trying to have fun. We attempted to partake in the kids workshop at the home improvement store. The kids were awful. I wanted to leave. But this was supposed to be family time. Figuring out when to raise the white flag is much harder to figure out then you realize.

What other unexpected fights do you and your spouse have related to parenting?

Riding the Wave

I haven’t written much recently. I’ve wanted to write. I’ve thought about writing but I just couldn’t get myself to do it. I mentioned in a previous post that I was in a post baby slump. Or I thought I was. It came post baby and felt a lot like the other dips I had after Noa and Atticus. However, this one was lasting much longer.

When I’m in this state I go to a place of existing. I’m not numb to life, I wouldn’t call it depression. Simply, just trying to keep my head above water. Which is a lot. Working and parenting. Running a hobby turned side business. And trying to keep the house in some sort of order. Wife-ing. Ish. When someone else can sustain life on their own sometimes they fall to the bottom of the list.

I knew I wasn’t in a great place. But we often don’t feel the depth of the pit until we are climbing out. And I often feel like I’m in a ditch rather than a valley, or that’s what I tell people. Self-preservation, I’m not sure. I up-ed my meds and this seemed to help. But I needed to get at the root of my problem. Luckily, I’ve spent some solid time in therapy (and am working on going back) and am pretty good at self analyzing.

Here’s what I realized….

For the past five years I’ve worked at creating family. We always wanted three kids.  I’ve talked about the process of getting pregnant as a same sex couple. (In case you missed it, we’re missing what doctors like to call the “male factor.” Apparently, this is important in procreation.) I’ve been “trying to get pregnant,” “pregnant” or “postpartum” for five years. My world revolved around these three things. And then it didn’t. And apparently that fucked with me mentally.

Now what? We have our three kids. I had to find something else to invest my time and energy in. You’re probably thinking, “Wait, aren’t you starting a little side business? Isn’t that your new focus?” Good question. My mind didn’t see it that way. I was stuck in this place of “what’s next?” And let me tell you, with all the mindfulness books I’ve read, this is not the place to be.

I just want to clarify, “what’s next” and goals are two very different things. Having goals implies taking steps to achieve them. Having a family was a goal. I knew how to get there. And I was able to actively work towards achieving it. Pregnancy, times three, was one long-ass step in achieving my family goal.

Family.

Check.

“What’s next?” Bad place. Missing the now and waiting for better.

So, what’s changed? I can’t say I’m out of the pit. Sure, I’m not at the bottom of it. But I’m still working my way to the top. Meds have helped. Knowing what the issue is has helped. Although hasn’t magically solved it. Five years is a long time spent towards achieving something. Recognizing that it is going to take time to create a new goal is what I find most helpful. It will come. I just need to give it time.

Time For That

One of the most common questions Betsy and I get asked, “How do you have time for that?” I thought I would do a post or two on our daily life since we both work unconventional jobs. Along with the benefits and drawbacks of self-employment.

Betsy and I are both interpreters. We both work and stay home. There was a brief time before kids that we considered leaving the field of interpreting. Thankfully, that thought was short lived. We are both freelance interpreters, which means we work for a handful of companies, some as “staff” and others as contractors. There is a lot of freedom in creating our own schedule (although limited by when we get requests.) But also some drawbacks to self-employment

After having Noa, I stayed home full time for six months. It was awful. I loved being home with Noa but knew staying home full time was not for me. Around the six month mark we decided we needed to split our schedules between working and staying home. We didn’t want to put Noa, or any of our kids, into daycare. The price is outrageous and we like getting to witness all the milestones. I recognize we are extremely lucky in having this option.

So, what does our day to day life look like? Here’s a peak.

Monday- Work from home for an hour. Paint some furniture. Family lunch. Another job in the afternoon. Betsy is also supposed to work but her job cancelled. Evening as a family.

Tuesday- Two jobs for me. Second one finishes early. Home for entire middle of day. Another job in the evening that overlaps with Betsy. Although hers is cancelled.

Wednesday- Job in community then straight home for a job online. Online job is a no show. Several hours free to hang as a family/paint furniture. Afternoon job for me. Betsy has an evening job that cancels.

Thursday- Morning job at home. Long break. Afternoon job that is a no show. We paint furniture, housework, play outside. Betsy has an evening job that cancels. I pick up a job in the evening.

Friday- Betsy works in the morning. Rushes home. Appointment. Betsy has an evening job.

Saturday- I have a middle of the day job. Pre and post job is family time.

Sunday- Family day.

This isn’t the exact schedule each week but we do a fair amount of evening/weekend jobs. There are also a fair amount of no shows and cancellations thrown in. Oh, and the times we show up and they find out we are not a Spanish interpreter and they ordered the wrong language. Which allows us lots of time to do other things. Like paint furniture. Or read nap while the boys are napping and Noa is at school.

There are times when our schedules overlap due to requests. Luckily, we have family close by that can babysit. We are fortunate that there is a plethora of work in the area and we try to split the schedule as evenly as possible. This makes for much happier moms.

There are TONS of benefits to being self-employed. Flexible schedule, saving money on daycare, lots of family time, getting to take our kids to the doctor, being home when they are sick, unconventional vacations times, etc. However, there are also drawbacks (health insurance issues!!!!!), which I will go into in my next post.

 

 

Life With Kids

I don’t typically do list posts but I’ve been itching to do a post and lists are easier than formal paragraphs. So, here goes.

Things I’ve learned about life with kids. In no particular order.

  1. You will be judged on everything. Things you never thought you could possibly be judged on. The less personal you take it, the better.
  2. Find a hobby. Even if you’ve dreamed about being a mother your whole life sometime between four and 14 months postpartum you want to be more than just a mother. Having a hobby helps this feeling of loss.
  3. At some point you will feel like your partner is doing it wrong. Let them do it wrong. You probably can get the baby to stop crying in half the time. But in nine months you will want your partner to be able to get the baby to stop crying without you.
  4. Some days your child has seven hours of screen time. Other days you bake cookies and picnic at the park. Everything in moderation.
  5. Because you are an adult and contributing member of society, your parents (or in-laws) will feel like they did it right. And you are doing it wrong. Regardless of the fact that times have changed and we know more (car seats, sleeping positions, brain development) they will still have an opinion on your parenting.
  6. They will also magically forget that when you were a toddler you were an asshole. They will ask you things like “why won’t he listen to me?” (the 2.5 year old.) “Well, because he is 2.5 and needs to be told things three thousand times.”
  7. It doesn’t matter how much you love your partner before kids, there is a reason marital satisfaction decreases after kids. It’s hard. Sometimes you just co-exist. “That won’t happen to us.” It will. And that’s cool. Just do something about it.
  8. Having your baby “fit into you life” is much easier in theory than reality. Betsy and I wanted to see Chicago on a business trip. We planned to have a day in Chicago before flying out in the evening. Noa was done napping, Atticus would nap in the carrier. Ha, nice try moms. Mid-July, 100+ temps, Lollapalooza, a delayed flight, arrived home at 3AM. Maybe we’re just not that family.
  9. Co-sleeping might not be for everyone, but damn it feels good to snuggle a sleeping child.
  10. The best prep for a child is a Boxer.
  11. Never ask a moms group for parenting advice. Made that mistake once. A mother told me that if I just screamed in my child’s face the behavior would stop. Also, don’t google shit. Trust your gut. Or ask a well trusted friend.
  12. Parenting feels super overrated for the first 6 months.
  13. Your partner will constantly surprise you with random shit they can do, like braid your daughter’s hair.
  14. And finally, if you’re in the pre-kid stage, relish in how good of a parent you are now. We should all get “Best Parent” award because we pop those babies out. Because let’s face it, we’re all way better parents before we had kids.

The Slump

‘When you pick a partner, you pick a story.’ Esther Perel.

If you haven’t listened to the podcast, “Where Should We Begin?” You should. It’s a couples therapy session with Esther Perel and it’s fantastic. It’s real and raw and worth the listen. Plus, it’s not specific to straight couples.

A couple weeks ago Betsy and I stayed up past 11PM chatting about life. It felt like we were back in the early days of dating. Fully engaged in the conversation. Granted the topics were different. Beyond our ideals of marriage and children. Because I was a way better mom before I had kids.

One kid was easy. Correction, one kid seemed easy after the second kid showed up. One was actually really hard. It’s amazing how we can simultaneously love what we have and grieve what we lost. Feeling deeply fulfilled from the family ‘cuddle puddle’, to wishing one was back in college tied to nothing. One, two, ten, the number doesn’t change the new identity of parent. And the identity shift is the plot twist. The daily obstacles, the new vocabulary.

Betsy and I, we’re in the thick of it. And without intentional acts of love the domestic consumes all. Laundry and bills and attempting to get health insurance figured out. Oh, and teaching Noa why ‘asshole’ isn’t an appropriate word to use.

I hit this period beyond the initial phase of postpartum chaos where I wonder about the path I’m on. Where life feels really hard. And I contemplate all the paths that would have been easier? Better? Just different? I know this not to be true. But the Instagram posts of other couples sure make it feel that way. Don’t get me wrong, I know Instagram pics are not what I should be comparing my life to. But I get sucked into the furniture ideas and cute puppies and it’s hard not to miss the smitten couples and perfect children.

Luckily, and through much self evaluation, I can recognize when the slump is coming. Although recognizing and appropriate coping are two different things. You’d think after three very intentioned kids I would figure out how to avoid this slump?

But, alas, no. It comes. It sticks around for awhile. I text my doctor crying and asking for confirmation that I am not fucking my children up completely. She says I’m not. I trust her. And then, slowly, it fades. And I realize that my life is pretty damn near perfect.

A Rant From the Wife #3

I recently finished John Green’s newest book Turtle’s All The Way Down. It is, among other things, about a teenage girl, Aza, that suffers from Anxiety and OCD in the form of intrusive thoughts. (Sound familiar? If not, please refer to previous blog posts written by the original creator of this blog.) One of the things that I found most interesting about this book is not just Aza’s narrative of her mental health frustrations, but the way her friends and mother deal with it. At one point, her best friend tells her that it is “exhausting” being her friend. Her mother is constantly checking in on her anxiety levels. It got me thinking; “What are some appropriate ways that we (the non-anxious) can help those we love who experience any sort of mental health struggle?” I have come up with a strategic list of six things that might help you be the supportive friend, partner, parent, or child of someone you know that could use a little support.

*Disclaimer: The list might not actually help. It’s just the list that helps me. Please remember that every person is an individual.

1: NEVER ASSUME YOU KNOW WHAT THEY NEED.

One of the things that never works is telling someone in the throws of a mental health crisis, “Hey, just stop thinking that.” It’s not that easy. Trust me, if they could, they would. Also, saying things like “Why don’t you go lay down?” or “Have you taken your medication?” or “Let’s do something to distract you.” Are usually ineffective. Laying down to be alone with one’s thoughts can be just as terrifying as being with people. Their medication is none of your damn business (except for when it is). And distractions usually don’t work.

2: SOMETIMES, YOU NEED TO ASSUME YOU KNOW WHAT THEY NEED.

HA! I see the look on your face. “But you just said don’t assume!” I know. Confusing right. So is mental health. Here are some times that making assumptions might help. 1 – If you know the person well enough to know their triggers, avoid the triggers. For Jordann, if she doesn’t get enough sleep, her anxiety spikes. So I give her opportunities to sleep if it’s been a particularly rough week of sleep.  2 – If they haven’t been meeting their basic needs, encourage them to do so. Sometimes, a snack helps. Sometimes, sleep helps. Sometimes, physical touch helps. (Sometimes, none of these help.) Sometimes, a distraction does help. Going outside has a million benefits for everyone. As does physical movement, like a nice walk. The key to step two is that you have to REALLY know the person you’re trying to help. And don’t be offended when your efforts are denied.

3: REMEMBER THAT IT’S HARDER FOR THEM THAN IT IS FOR YOU.

You know what’s really hard? Being a constant support for someone with a mental illness. You know what’s harder than that? Having a fucking mental illness!! If at any point you think, “Ugh! This is so hard! Woe is me!” then take a step back, take a deep breath, and get over yourself.

4: HAVE AN OUTLET

On that note, it’s important for you to have an outlet too. Because it really is hard to constantly be on call to support as needed. Or to always be a little concerned about how the person you love feels. But it’s not their job to make you feel better about their mental health. So find someone else to talk to. Maybe a friend. Maybe a therapist.Someone who won’t judge. Maybe someone that gets it, but it’s not a requirement.

5: FIND WAYS TO EDUCATE YOURSELF

I like the podcast The Hilarious World of Depression. Real people telling their stories in a very relatable way that helps me understand what others might experience. Some simple Google magic could help too. It’s important to remember that no two people are alike. Just because two people have OCD, it doesn’t mean they experience it in the same way. Whatever you learn or hear is a starting point or a reference point. It’s not the law and it’s not set in stone.

6: ALWAYS BE THERE

Taking into consideration that all of the other points are extremely contradictory, this is the most difficult. The most important part of this is to talk to your person. Find out what they need. Don’t do it in a moment of crisis. That shit never works. That’s as bad as me trying to come up with a plan to sleep train our kids at 3:00 in the morning. Come up with a game plan. Ask them how they want you to respond or react. Ask them what their triggers are. Ask them what would help them when they’re really struggling. And then, in the throws of really bad day, remember that there is a very strong chance that none of it will help at all. And that’s okay. They know you’re still there.

I hope this helps. And if it doesn’t, sorry you just read this super long post and got nothing from it. At the very least, read Turtles. It was a great book.

That Wasn’t In My Birth Plan

I love a good birth story. In fact, I’m obsessed with my own. Ask me about any of my births and you better have some time to listen. They were amazing, mostly.

There is so much emotion in birthing a child. We plan for it to go one way and it often goes another. It can be extremely cathartic if it goes right. And highly traumatic if it goes wrong. To the point that there is a workshop for women to process their birth stories.

I’ve had three babies all with unique birth stories. My last happened to come without an epidural. And when I tell people this, the response is as if I’m somehow better than the mom that got an epidural or had a c-section.

“Wow, that’s amazing. Did it hurt?”

Yes, it hurt. It felt like every bone in my body was breaking at the same time. In fact, the pain was so intense I basically disconnected from my body. And there was vomit. No poop, but vomit.

We love judging moms and this is just one more way we do it. We’ve somehow forgotten that not everyone has the exact same birth experience. I’ve seen women pop out a baby in a few hours and shrug when asked if it hurt. How? I don’t know. Clearly, my huge hips aren’t doing their job.

Likewise, we’ve somehow made it a societal norm for moms to feel like they have to justify why they got an epidural.

Cue any birth story involving an epidural and it involves an apologizing explanation:

“I was in labor for 47 hours and couldn’t take it anymore.”

“My labor stalled and they said the epidural might help me relax and get it going again.”

You don’t have to justify it. How about you got an epidural because it turns out childbirth is way more painful than we can imagine? Why is that not enough?

Most of us plan to try without an epidural. Why? I have no fucking idea.

Perhaps it’s because our moms did it. Yeah, my mom also got her cavities filled without any anesthesia and I wouldn’t voluntarily do that either. Or perhaps it’s because ‘woman have been pushing out babies for thousands of years without epidurals. We were made for it.’ We were also made to invent new technologies and use them.

You know what’s way better than an epidural free birth? A birth that you get to decide what’s best for you. And a doctor or midwife that supports you.

A brief aside that, yes, midwives will support your choice of getting an epidural. Seriously consider a midwife, I got to catch Noa. Betsy caught Atticus. I’m not really sure how Cal came out aside from quickly and painfully.

If you’re like me, and one of the many moms that had an epidural, the next time someone asks about it your response can be, “Hell yeah I got an epidural. I birthed a child and I’m a badass for it.”

Point being, if you get an epidural you sure as fuck shouldn’t have to apologize for it.

The Lucky One

Photo Credit: True Mama Photography

One of the ways I deal with my anxiety is by picking up new hobbies. I’ve dabbled in various hobbies through the years. I crocheted for a week post Noa’s birth. I started a blog several years ago but it faded after a few months. I bake, but this one causes some serious weight gain. I sew. (This one I’ve stuck with.)

Recently, I picked up the hobby of furniture painting. If you’ve read my blog you know I dove head first into it. I was collecting pieces from all over town. And started a little side business. It is currently consuming our entire garage but I’m not solely to blame. Betsy found a few pieces she wanted to redo.

However, whenever I tell people about my new hobby the first response is, ‘Wow, you’re so lucky to have Betsy supporting you with that.’ In my mind it isn’t ‘luck.’ Why is it that people see having a supportive partner as ‘lucky?’ This isn’t about luck. It’s about picking a partner that allows you to be who you are.

Pre-bab(ies) we have lots of hobbies. And then we become a mother for the first time and it’s easy to get lost in that identity. So much energy is consumed learning to care for that child, we forget who we were before. I remember feeling lost in who I was beyond a mother. Eventually I started getting back into reading, writing and other creative outlets. And I had Betsy there to support me all the way.

But I’ve never felt lucky to have support for a passion/hobby from Betsy. In my mind, it’s what we do in a partnership. We encourage our partners to follow their passion. Sometimes that means packing three cake pans when you’re traveling (right, Chelsea?) Or perhaps it’s editing a blog post. In this case, it’s learning how to rebuild a dresser leg.

When people tell me how lucky I am to have Betsy supporting my passions I’m often tempted to respond with, ‘No, you just chose the wrong partner.’

(A note from Betsy: Jordann crocheted for ONE DAY. Not a week. Don’t let her fool you into thinking she had a weeks worth of commitment on that one.)

When To Let Go

Five years ago Betsy and I went on the journey to have children. We decided before we even started that three was our magic number. We weren’t going to ‘see how the first one went.’ We wanted three and we wanted them close in age. And we did. Three in four years, you’d think this next decision would come easy.

As I mentioned in my previous post the picking of a donor is no easy task. At least it wasn’t for us. From day one we wanted the same donor for all our kids. Which required a stock at the local sperm bank. Unless one gets pregnant using fresh sperm, they’re paying for storage at a bank. We were lucky and got pregnant rather easy. We have an excessive number of vials, now stored at the bank. Now the question becomes do we continue to pay for sperm storage for our frozen vials? Three kids, done. The answer should be easy.

But it isn’t, there is a visceral connection to the frozen sperm. My three amazing children were made with it. And yet we’re done having kids. But do I want to make that decision so final? It’s non-reversible. There is no surgery to undo it.

So, do I continue to pay the $400 annual storage fee? Or put the money elsewhere knowing I can’t change my mind? Will it ever be an easy decision? Another small crux in the life of same-sex parents.