To The Friends Who Stick Around When Anxiety Messes With My Mind

Anxiety has a way of ruining good things that happen to me. Even when I’m happy, it comes creeping on me like dark clouds over my sunny day. I convince myself that too much happiness is suspicious, and if I’m happy right now, it’s because something terrible is soon to happen.

Anxiety is not rational. Anxiety is knowing all about the logic of the impossibility of something happening and still convincing yourself that there is a crack somewhere in that logic and that the 1-in-a-million chance of something bad happening will definitely happen to you.

Anxiety also comes with an overthinking mind. It’s an intense mind that never stops thinking, so much it becomes a form of torture. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night sweating, thinking of the things I could have done better, like that one text a few months ago that maybe I should have worded slightly differently.

My anxiety doesn’t only affect me, it affects the people around me too. Anxiety makes my relationships harder. I’m thankful for the friends in my life who stay. I want them to know that it means the world to me because I know I can be hard to love sometimes. I can be paranoid and too sensitive — too much, too me. If I see changes in a friend’s behavior, I come up with tons of hypothetical scenarios that would explain why they hate me right now, because if they didn’t answer my text yet, clearly they must hate me. I skip right past the logical explanation that they’re just busy or feeling down about something wholly unrelated to me.

I convince myself that they’re mad, that I screwed up, that they’ve finally had enough of my overthinking mind. I live in constant fear of losing the people I love. I care so much that just knowing that there’s a possibility that good things could end is unbearable to me.

My anxiety is trying to protect me. It’s preparing me for the worst so I have a chance to grab a parachute to soften the fall. One of my downfalls, though, is that to prevent potential heartbreak, I distance myself from the people I love. It ends up affecting the relationships, even though in reality there was nothing to protect myself against with to begin with. My anxiety and I, we’ve gone through a lot together, and sometimes it’s difficult for us to believe that people can stay even when we’re not our best self. It’s difficult for us to believe that there are people who actually stay through the storms life throws at us. It feels like utopia to believe that forever friends do exist and that they can happen to us too. But forever friends exist, and for them I am thankful.

I know my need for reassurance can come across as needy, and I feel the need to apologize for it. But I want my friends to know that this isn’t something I can control yet, and I hate this about myself too. I, better than anyone, know how incredibly annoying an overactive mind is. I live with it and, believe me, I wish I’d found the “off” button already. Above all, I want my friends to know that having them by my side is the most beautiful gift a girl like me, a girl with anxiety, could ask for. To the friends who stay when I don’t even love myself, thank you.

 

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After Her 12-Year-Old Attempted Suicide, This Mom Has An Important Message For Parents

Trigger warning: suicide/suicide ideation/self-mutilation

Tweens and teens today eat, live, sleep and breathe school, friends, family and social media. So when any or all of these areas of their life present struggles, it can sometimes make adolescents feel as if their entire world has come tumbling down. And, in a sense, it has. 

These people, places, and things are the focus of their life for the time being. How are they supposed to know there is a big wide world waiting for them just beyond the next door when they don’t yet have the key to unlock it? Truth be told, they can’t without parental guidance. And even though mental health issues amongst adolescents are taking thousands each year due to death by suicide, there is still a lack of awareness surrounding the severity of childhood, pre-teen and teenage mental health struggles.

With suicide being the third leading cause of death in those aged 10-24, children’s lives depend on the destigmatization of adolescent mental health, the support of loved ones, and the help of suicide prevention advocates.

One such advocate is Julie Lutz*, a single mother of two whose youngest daughter, Annie Lutz* nearly died by suicide at just 12 years old.

Lutz describes her now-13-year-old daughter as a “beautiful, outgoing, social, caring, ray of shine.” But sometime around November of 2018, Annie’s personality seemed to fade, and Lutz noticed a drastic change in Annie’s mood which she says she attributed to the run-of-the-mill teen angst. 

Annie was experiencing difficulties with friends, bullying, issues with her father, and her grandmother’s brain cancer diagnosis. She eventually confided in her mother that she had begun self-mutilation through cutting. The first time Annie practiced self-mutilation, she sought help from her mother out of fear. Later on, Lutz discovered that her daughter had cut herself again. Only this time, she hadn’t sought her mother’s help. As soon as she learned of it, Lutz to seek counseling for Annie right away.

Emiliano Vittoriosi/Unsplash

It seemed to Lutz that Annie was improving with time and counseling, but after what Lutz describes as a “fantastic weekend,” Annie admitted that she’d taken too many over-the-counter-pills while attempting suicide. Those moments are what Julie describes as her “saddest moment ever as a mom.” 

“This language of cutting and suicide is not uncommon now,” Lutz tells Scary Mommy. “There’s a lot of layers surrounding [cutting and suicidal thoughts] that we are uncovering.”

Since the attempt, Lutz has been pro-active in supporting her daughter’s mental health by enrolling her in extensive counseling through school and outside of school, as well as installing a security software — Bark — in her daughter’s phone. Bark’s software contains an algorithm designed to notify parents via text and/or email of any potential risks (e.g. suicide, self-harm, sexual-predator “grooming,” drugs, violence, nudity, etc.) detected in a child’s technological devices.

Bark

Technology’s grip on children today is foreign territory to many parents, and this is the first generation raising kids who have had the accessibility of the world wide web at the touch of their fingertips since they were born. Therefore, it’s important for parents to know what is going on inside that universe they hold in the palm of their hands. 

While the internet may be a wealth of information when looking for resources about suicide prevention, a research article led by senior lecturer at Bristol Medical School, Lucy Biddle, infers that the internet may influence the appeal of suicide in an already suicidal individual.

Biddle and her team conducted a web search using 12 search terms one might be likely to use when looking for suicide methods. They focused on analyzing the first 10 sites listed, with research conducted for a total of 240 valid searches. Biddle’s results showed that roughly half of the sites were pro-suicide sites or chat rooms while the other half were suicide prevention pages.

The scariest part? The three most commonly occurring sites across all searches were all pro-suicide.

When Lutz downloaded Bark, she was notified nearly 100 times a day, mostly for bullying and profanity. Two months after her daughter’s suicide attempt, Bark notified Lutz that her daughter had been browsing and searching for pills around the house with the purpose of self-harm.

Lutz tells Scary Mommy, “Nothing could have prepared me for this.” 

After Annie’s search was flagged and reported to Lutz, Bark sent a “Love Box” with a heartfelt card, beautiful art and checked in later to see how Annie and the rest of the family were doing.

This road may not be easy for Lutz, Annie or the rest of their family, but through intense counseling, loving interventions, boundaries with negative peers, and maintaining a safe and open environment, Annie is continuing to find better ways to manage her mental health and stress. 

Now, Lutz is advocating for those who are suicidal, as well as raising awareness for parents who may or may not know their children are having suicidal thoughts or tendencies. The Internet and social media follow us everywhere, but this technology is seeking to monitor the safety of that accessibility.

Lutz’s recommendation: “Monitor your kid’s technology. [It’s] so important.”

*Names have been changed for minor’s sake. 

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Why I’m So Grateful For A 2-Minute Conversation In The Department Store

I saw an fellow mom the other day while browsing my favorite store. We aren’t super close, but we both know the enough about each other through social media and the occasional meet up to talk over coffee.

She knows I’m a divorced, working mom and she’s in the same boat. Because of that, when we see each other there’s a level of comfort that allows us to let it all hang out like an unbuttoned pair of Levi’s after Thanksgiving dinner.

I asked her how she was and she replied with the standard, “Good.”

Then she returned the question, and I said I was great. Which was a total lie.

She stopped, her eyes dropped to the floor, and she laughed. Then she looked up at me and said,”Actually, I’m really shitty.”

And oh my fucking God, the relief I felt pouring out of me because we could actually have a real, raw conversation made me realize when I lied between my clenched jaw about how fucking fabulous I was, my shoulders were tense and I probably wasn’t breathing properly.

“ME. TOO.”

JGI/Tom Grill/Getty

I didn’t know how badly I needed to tell someone that I was hanging on by a thread that week. How badly I needed to really be seen. How badly I needed to just be real.

We’ve become so used to rushing through our days, white-knuckling it through life to make it to the next thing, we have become immune to taking a second to be truthful about how we feel.

The other mom and I only talked for a few minutes — she was late for something and my daughter was in the dressing room trying on her 45th dress for an upcoming dance — but in those five minutes, my day changed dramatically. I’m hoping her day did too. After all, she must have needed to talk about it or she wouldn’t have let me into her world, and I feel lucky I was there to help her.

I certainly wasn’t happy she was struggling and having a hard time wading through this life of hers by any means. But I noticed right away how my pulse slowed down immediately after joining her in the “let’s get real about how we are really doing” club.

I felt cleansed because I knew I wasn’t alone. It felt amazing to tell the truth and not walk through the store saying I was fine, feeling like a frozen version of myself, before trying on some heels and leaving feeling like a shriveled up skin pod. But that is exactly what would have happened had she not peeled off her mask and admitted she, in fact, was not “fine” and no, life wasn’t great at all.

We are not robots. We don’t need to put a positive spin on everything despite all the positive, uplifting memes that are getting tossed around about choosing happiness. And for fuck’s sake, we are not always good, or great, or fine, or whatever code word we use when we are feeling like a useless bag of dicks but think we need to cover it up lest we make anyone uncomfortable or someone actually see as as a human being.

You can be grateful for all you have and still feel like life is trying to get you right in the Achilles’ heel.

I know it’s okay to not be fine, I know it. But for some reason, it’s harder to admit that to others. Which is why I’m so grateful this woman took it a step further and made me realize it’s okay to be real about it too.

Not only did I feel lighter for being my real self that day, but I also realized that real conversations, where I can actually share how I’m really feeling, are the only conversations I want to have. Shame on me for saying I was great when I felt like I’d been put through the garbage disposal that day. From now now, I’m going to tell someone if I’m having a bad day (or month) instead of painting a glossy picture all over the damn place.

Being real doesn’t mean you have to go into the grittiness and deep corners of your life, divulging every detail. It doesn’t mean you have to unload all your drama, either.

But simply letting someone into your world a little bit and not feeling like you have to conceal your way through your days — especially if you have the opportunity to talk with someone who is willing to take a few minutes out of their life to let you know they are there, they understand, and yes, life can be a shitshow for them too — wouldn’t you rather get in that lane?

It’s not easy and can make us feel vulnerable and weak, but it’s not weak at all. It’s a sign of strength to admit you are breakable — we all are.

And by admitting that you’re having a shitty day or struggling lately, you give others permission to be real too. Sometimes it’s all someone needs to get through the rest of their day.Who knows, you just might lift someone’s spirits a bit — just like that other mom did for me.

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I’m Not Avoiding Or Ignoring You, I’m Trying To Manage My Anxiety

I was at a conference recently, chatting with two friends I’d know online for years but never met in person. They asked if wanted to go get something to eat, and I gave them a few false starts. I tried to figure out how to say no without coming across as a jerk. I was already feeling anxious because of the long flight I’d had that morning and all the social interaction I’d had most of the afternoon. I’ve been living with anxiety attacks long enough to know that if I didn’t shut down, go back to my room, and relax, I’d probably end up having a full blow attack and be awake most of the night.

Once I finally told them I was going to head back to my room, one said, “Are you just blowing us off?”

She said it jokingly, with a half smile. But at the same time, there was a little bite to it too. There always is when I turn down social interaction with friends. I’ve been faced with this situation enough times to know that whenever I have to step away from a social event because of my anxiety, or I have to cancel at the last moment because I can feel anxiety bubbling in stomach or I tell someone I can’t make it, and when they ask why, I’m too self-conscious to tell them I have anxiety. So they always look at me as if I’m “blowing them off.”

Hailey Reed/Unsplash

This is one of the side effects of living with an anxiety disorder. Most of the time I’m 100% fine. I’m communicative, I’m friendly, I’m myself. But then there are the anxious times. There are the times when I can feel a panic attack coming on, and I know if I don’t take some time to myself, it will get worse. I’ll feel nauseous. I’ll feel terror. I’ll have to take medication that is a little dicey and potentially addictive. So I’ve learned to pull back. I’ve learned to set limits.

But at the same time, there is still a stigma around anxiety. There are a lot of people who don’t believe it’s real. And even if they do believe it, if they aren’t living with the disorder, it’s pretty difficult for them to understand. And then there’s the fact that whenever I discuss my mental illness with someone, they look at me differently, so most of the time, I just keep it to myself.

I don’t know if that’s me being self-destructive about a condition I really wish I didn’t have, or if people are actually acting differently around me. But what I do know is that all of this has made me reluctant to tell someone I’m not hanging out with them because of my anxiety. It’s caused me to come up with a litany of ridiculous excuses. It’s caused me to fake headaches at family reunions and stomachaches at parties. It’s caused a lot of my friends and family to assume I’m avoiding them when the fact is, I’m just trying to keep from having a panic attack and it has absolutely nothing to do with them.

Back to that moment at the conference with my friends, the ones I really respect and enjoy but have never meet in person. This was exactly what I’d learned to expect from pulling out of a situation because of my anxiety. I wanted to go out to dinner with them. I wanted to chat with two people who I respect as writers and people, but I knew I just couldn’t. So I told them I wasn’t feeling well. I told them I was tired from traveling. The whole time, I could tell that they weren’t buying it. Then I finally said, “I have an anxiety disorder and I’m pretty anxious right now. I need to go up to my hotel room and be alone for it bit. It’s not you. Trust me.”

I went on, telling them that I honestly wanted to spend time with them, but I just couldn’t at that time and I hoped they understood. They both appeared sympathetic. They both seemed to understand, and then, as I walked back to my hotel room, I rolled thoughts around in my head, wondering if I’d just blown the friendship. Ultimately, I hadn’t. But that’s anxiety for you. It causes you to second guess everything and roll all the things around in your head in the middle of the night until you are a nervous wreck.

Listen, family and friends. I will go ahead and speak for all of us struggling with anxiety: we are not ignoring you. We are not putting you off or trying to avoid interactions with you. What we are doing is trying to keep our heads straight. We are trying to manage our surroundings as best we can. It’s not personal. It’s not you. It’s just the reality of living with anxiety. I hope you understand.

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Why Some Moms Are Microdosing LSD And Mushrooms

It’s difficult to gage exactly how many mothers are microdosing LSD and mushrooms considering both substances are predominantly illegal. However, those who are using these substances aren’t doing it to get high. This isn’t a recreational thing. This isn’t the Kool-Aid of the ’60s. More or less, this is the trend of mothers struggling with anxiety, depression, and exhaustion, who have found prescription medication ineffective, and are now attempting something non-traditional to manage their stress and mental illness.

Now keep in mind, microdosing psychedelics isn’t a new thing. The term was actually coined in James Fadiman Ph. D. book The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys almost 10 years ago. Here’s how it work. Let’s use LSD, for example. To get yourself full-on, walls melting tripped out, you would need to take around 100 micrograms of LSD. Microdosing, in contrast, is taking 10 to 20 micrograms every few days. In fact, to get it right, most microdosing parents use specialized scales that are intended to measure jewelry and other valuable metals. Rest assured, this isn’t about getting high.

So what are the benefits? Well, The Guardian interviewed a UK mother named “Rosie” who said, “You don’t feel high, just… better.” In fact, her story reminded me a lot of those who, 10 years ago, discussed the benefits of using marijuana in small doses to help treat depression and anxiety. Now CBD oil is all the rage. After the birth of Rosie’s child, she struggled with depression and anxiety. She went to doctors, but medication wasn’t working, so she turned to alcohol.

“I wasn’t getting blind drunk and peeling myself off pavements,” she says. “But if I felt bad, my mind would immediately travel to the next drink I could have. It was the only thing that helped block out the sadness.” This all changed when she switched to microdosing psychedelic mushrooms.

Scary Mommy and
GraphicaArtis/Getty

She found a kit and guide on how to grow them online, and it proved to be a game changer. She feels more confident, happier, and more focused. She says she’s very careful to keep her mushrooms far out of the reach of her pre-teen children. “But it definitely doesn’t impair my ability to parent,” she says. “If anything, my awareness is sharpened.”

I can’t help but feel sympathy for Rosie’s situation. I’m a father of three, and I have run the gamut when it comes to medications to treat my anxiety and depression. And I will admit, I have a pretty good mix at the moment. But it’s a daily struggle that I have accepted as part of my life. There are good times and bad times, and there are times when, if it weren’t for the support of my wife and the love I have for my children, I don’t know if I’d make it to the next sunrise. Microdosing does sound appealing, but I’m not sure if I’m to the point of growing illegal mushrooms in my home or seeking out an LSD dealer.

But honestly, therein lies the rock and hard place when it comes to seeking out non-traditional medications. Sure, mothers post online about essential oils and the life-changing magic of tidying up, but frankly, when you are living with full blown anxiety attacks and crippling depression, a yard sale, yoga, or a diffuser just isn’t going to cut it. Obviously Rosie and others have had to say to themselves, “I’m so miserable that I’m going to risk jail time to make myself better.” And let’s be honest here, microdosing isn’t about getting high. It’s about trying to stay sane.

Not surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of actual scientific studies on the subject. Frankly, mushrooms and LSD are as taboo in the medical industry as they are in kitchen. The most recent study of note was reported by the Department of Cognitive Science at Macquarie University it Sydney, Australia in February 2019. Ninety-eight participants tried microdosing LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms), and after six weeks of microdosing, participants noticed a small increase in neuroticism, along with lower levels of stress and depression.

Sounds pretty promising to me.

Of course, there are risks. Rosie mentioned that once her mushrooms developed blue streaks and she became terrified that she was about to kill herself. I’m sure she would have felt a lot safer microdosing under the care of a professional, however, that isn’t an option.

All of this makes me want to urge doctors to break down the taboos around psychedelic drugs to see what benefits they might contain. I don’t want to speak for all parents struggling with anxiety and depression, but I’m not looking to hallucinate. I’m already borderline eye twitching most days caring for my three young children. I would, however, like to find something that can help me reduce or eliminate the pit in my stomach and the perpetual feelings of dread and failure that I fight with each and every day. And if microdosing is a way to fix that, let’s bring down the taboos around it, test it, and package it in a regulated and safe way so that professionals can over see it’s use.

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How Mental Illness Affects My Marriage

I am curled up on the bed. I have just told my husband that I am useless, I am worthless, none of the work I do is valuable, and when I die, I’m going to hell. It doesn’t really matter what precipitated this sudden break. Sometimes my brain just breaks. Because of my ADHD, my anxiety disorder, and my bipolar II, my mental illness constantly affects my marriage. And when my mental health nosedives, my husband has to deal with the fallout.

This isn’t pleasant for either of us.

He’s developed some tricks to cope with it, after a decade and a half together. He’s given up trying to talk me out of it, for the most part. The same way a depressed person needs to learn that they can’t “talk themselves out” of their own depression, the partner of a person with a mental illness needs to learn that they can’t reason their partner out of the depths of their illness. You can’t talk me out of a bipolar episode. Telling me to calm down when I’m anxious is about as useful as asking the dog to please, please stand on his head. This frustrates him. He wants to help, and his first line of defense is to try to fix it. The easiest way that he can imagine to fix it is to talk about it.

That’s a shit way to fix mental illness.

The second way to fix it? Tell me to go to sleep. This is also, generally, a shit way to fix mental illness, though an effective one. Chances are I’ll wake up feeling better. But I also never dealt with the situation to begin with. I never had a chance to learn or heal or cope. Plus, when I’m asleep, the onus of parenting/dealing with the house/cleaning/whatever falls directly on him. I’m no help, because (obviously) I’m asleep. Not convenient for anyone. But at least I’m not demanding his attention by crying, moaning about how miserable I am, or taking attention away from other important tasks. Sometimes the poor man is forced to triage. The kids take precedence.

But luckily, I’m fairly stable. My meds mostly keep me on an even keel. Except sometimes they don’t. Unfortunately, in addition to all these issues, or perhaps because of them, I’m highly empathetic. I simply can’t cope with other people’s strong emotions. Particularly his strong emotions.

Did my husband have a bad day at work? If he comes home in a bad mood, I’ll be in a bad mood. Because it feels, to me, like his bad mood is directed particularly at me, like I’ve done something horribly wrong, and I stand around waiting to get screamed at. This is my mental illness talking, not reality. But I can’t separate the two, because (obviously) mental illness. If my husband gets angry at the kids and yells, I feel like he’s about to yell at me. If he’s mad at his work email, that rage feels like it’s pointed in my direction.

This makes it very difficult for my husband to experience authentic emotion without worrying about how it’s going to affect my mental health. This is grossly unfair to him. I know that. He knows that. It’s a vicious cycle that’s almost impossible to stop, and which we’ve found no good solution to, other than my hiding when he’s in a bad mood. Which is what I try to do. So he’s stuck in a bad mood with small children to mind and deal with while I hide in the back bedroom.

Even worse, when I know my mental health is skidding downwards, when I know it’s for no good reason, I’ll often refuse to say what’s wrong. Because I know nothing’s wrong, and because, frankly, I don’t have the mental energy to say something coherent, like, “I am not in a great headspace right now and I need some room. Nothing is actually wrong but it feels like something is.” Instead, I just sulk and slam around and generally look like I’m about to break into tears. My husband logically assumes something’s deeply wrong. When I refuse to tell him what’s wrong (because nothing really is), he assumes I don’t want to tell him because whatever’s wrong is his fault. 

This does nothing to help us maintain a functional marriage.

The vicious cycle sets in: he thinks something is wrong and feels guilty. I start to feel guilty for making him feel guilty, which means something is actually wrong, so something really is upsetting me. I get sadder. My mental health deteriorates. And on and on and on.

We sometimes have to cancel plans if I’m not doing well. Or, at least, I have to cancel. My husband may still do things with the kids. Which means he’s stuck solo parenting (he does a lot of solo parenting, the poor man. That also doesn’t help our marriage). He might end up taking the kids to my mom’s while I stay home and lie in bed. Or watch hours of TV. Or just stare at the goddamn ceiling.

Basically, mental illness can wreck a marriage.

Luckily, we went into this with eyes wide open.

My husband knew I had mental health challenges.

My husband understood that I required extra patience, extra time, and extra help. He makes sure I take my medicine. Most importantly, we love each other. We made a promise to stick together, and we do. We make an extra effort to have fun when we can, and those fun times carry use through the bad ones. Truthfully, the bad times aren’t very often. I’m pretty stable. It’s just that when I’m not stable, it can get ugly. But my husband understand that my mental health is worth taking care of, so he does the best he can to give me the space and grace I need to take care of it. Even if it’s inconvenient for him (it is). Even if it’s annoying (it is). Even it if puts him out (it does).

I picked a good guy. He’s gentle and kind. I’m very lucky. My mental illness affects our marriage. But my husband mitigates it as best he can. And for that, I’m grateful.

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I’m The ‘Family Therapist’ And It’s Emotionally Draining

Last week was my younger son’s school concert. For weeks leading up to it, he’d been confessing to me as I lay in bed getting him settled into sleep that he was absolutely terrified to perform.

His reasons kept changing. He loves to sing and dance but he told me he only wanted to perform for me. Then he told me he was concerned it would be too hot in the auditorium just like it was last year (it was a freaking oven and absolutely miserable). Then he said he thought the other kids didn’t know their singing parts well enough and were going to mess it up for everyone.

You get the picture. The kid had a major case of stage fright, which is totally normal for his age. But it was actually getting to the point where I wasn’t sure he was going to be able to get on stage at all. The day of the show, my son kept going back and forth, telling me he was happy and excited one second, and telling me he wouldn’t leave the house to go perform the next.

When my husband got home from work that day, he ran up to my son, saying, “I can’t wait for the show tonight, buddy!”

I shot him a look saying, “Ummmmm, WTF?” and promptly took him aside to explain why mentioning the show probably wasn’t the best idea.

And then I said, “Don’t you know that he’s been freaking out about this damn show for the past month?”

But my husband had no clue. My son hadn’t breathed a word of it to him. And it’s not because they aren’t close. In theory, he would share his most difficult feelings with his dad. My husband is as loving and accepting and open as can be. But he’s just not the person either of my sons go to when they need to talk about the deep stuff – the vulnerable, hard stuff.

Nope. It’s me. Pretty much 100% of the time.

Now, I mostly have no complaints about this. My kids trust me, and ever since they were little, they tell me everything. Literally everything. I know that not all kids tell their parents every fear and hope and dream they have. Especially as they get older and life becomes more complicated, scary, and confusing, I want them to have a safe place to land and to share. I am lucky that I can give them that.

The problem is that as much as it’s a gift, it’s a burden too. I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights I’ve spent worrying about the emotional world of my children. I know my husband has his own worries about life and about our kids, but they aren’t exactly that. He isn’t going over in his head the latest late-night confession one of his kids tearfully spilled out to him.

I know I’m not the only one with this gift/curse either. Stuff like this – what many call the “emotional labor” or “invisible labor” in a family – often falls squarely on a mother’s shoulders. As if we don’t have enough shit to contend with, and toss over in our minds at 4 a.m.

Yep, it’s not enough that moms are usually the family scheduler, the family chore enforcer, the family chef, the family nurse, and the family long-term planner – we are the family therapist as well. And it’s a huge burden to carry. HUGE.

We don’t just have to listen and absorb our kids’ emotions. Because we are entrusted with them, we have to help our kids make all kinds of life decisions – and those get a whole lot more complicated and high-stakes the older our kids get. And although our kids are their own agents of their lives, we have to bear the burden and potential fall-out of many of their choices too.

Again, I get that this is basically what being a parent is, and I honestly would not want it any other way. I just wish that the burden was shared more. Like I said, my husband is more than willing to take on some of the emotional labor within our family – and especially since I pointed out the uneven dynamic to him recently.

But – and I’m not even quite sure how it happened – the role seems to have fallen squarely in my lap. And since it’s always been this way, and my kids are used to confessing all kinds of things to me, I can’t see it changing anytime soon.

Maybe rather than taking on less of a “family therapist” role, I need to be unburdened in terms of all other “invisible labor” I do. But those other responsibilities are pretty freaking well established too. Sigh.

I don’t have many real answers here. I love my kids. I love that they want to open their hearts and share their deepest thoughts and feelings with me, and I honestly don’t want that ever to change. But I just need to say that it’s hard. It adds to my overall workload in our family, and sometimes I feel like I might explode with all the emotions, feelings, fears, and other “stuff” I have to keep in check in my mind and heart on behalf of my kids (and my husband too, but that’s a whole other story).

If you are the family therapist too, and you feel me on this, I want you to know you are not alone. We are allowed to love our kids and the roles we play in their lives while also saying, “Hey, this shit is hard, and I need a damn break.”

Hey, maybe what we need is a family therapist of our own. You know, someone who sits with us in the dark as we spill out our worries about everyone in our family, who brushes our hair out of our eyes, tells us everything will be fine, and helps us drift to sleep like a baby.

Now that would be lovely. Maybe that’s really what we all need.

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Stop Telling People With Depression They Shouldn’t Be Depressed

The first time my anxiety was misunderstood was when I was in high school.

A group of eight girls were staying the night at the house of one of our friends. It was nearing midnight, and we arranged pillows and blankets on the bedroom floor, stomachs full of strawberry Pop-Tarts. We were giggling about the IM exchange we’d had with a guy from school, when one friend suggested that we go for a drive. The 16-year-old among us picked up the keys to her mom’s minivan.

It was a balmy spring night, perfect for a drive. Everyone but me cheered and threw on shoes, while I sat on my friend’s bed, familiar panic setting in. Our town curfew for teens was midnight. What if we went for a drive and got pulled over? What if my parents found out I’d broken the rules? What if we wound up with a flat tire on a winding country road with no one to help us? What if, even worse, we got into a car accident?

As my friends were happily chatting and heading out the door, I said to one friend, “I’m not going.” She looked at me funny and asked what the big deal was. I mumbled something about the curfew, and she replied, “Chill out!” before sauntering out the door.

I stayed behind and cried.

I didn’t know then that the chronic stomachaches, the never-ending thoughts of doom, and the moments where my heart was racing and I felt that I couldn’t catch my breath were classic signs of anxiety.

I had decided I was what others felt I was. A Nervous Nelly. A Goody-Goody. A stick-in-the-mud. I can’t count the number of times I was told to “take a chill pill” and stop worrying.

But when you live with mental illness, you can’t just turn it off or talk yourself out of what’s going on in your head. That’s not how it works.

I quickly learned that voicing my concerns and objections ostracized me, so I started pushing my worries down deeper and deeper. This led to me avoiding a lot of situations in which my anxiety would be called out. I sensed that concealing my anxiety was safer and socially acceptable.

Plus, I had a good life, and people weren’t afraid to remind me of that fact. It was their way of implying that I shouldn’t be struggling. After all, there were other people all around me who were so much worse off.

My childhood was idyllic. My parents (who are still married) and two younger siblings and I lived in a comfortable home. I earned a few college scholarships, spending five years working up to a master’s degree. I married my high school sweetheart, and now we have four children. We live in a family-oriented community and have great jobs.

But here’s the truth. Anxiety and depression do not discriminate. They don’t prowl around seeking to sink their claws into those with the most difficult situations. Genes, brain chemistry, and trauma can all be contributing factors as to why some of us live with mental illness and some do not.

Depression and anxiety are beasts. They don’t care how badly you do not want them or what you had planned. There are many forms, but no matter the type a person has, it’s persistent and difficult, like a toddler in a toy store who won’t take no for an answer.

The truth is, many women suffer from anxiety, depression, or both. In fact, women are twice as likely to have depression than men. Factors including PMS, pregnancy, menopause, work overload, and abuse can be contributors.

I was in my thirties before I was officially diagnosed with anxiety. I’d done a lot of research into my symptoms and talked to a few trusted friends before working up the courage to see my doctor.

I discovered all of my options. Some women take prescription medication while others have found relief through supplements, CBD oil, or marijuana. Some exercise or practice mindfulness. Others opt for cognitive behavioral therapy, attending a support group, or taking up a new hobby.

Not only did having a diagnosis and treatment plan help, but the more I opened up to others about my anxiety, the more others shared their own struggles with me. Sharing my diagnosis gave them permission to reveal theirs. Together we established a sense of unity and support.

Of course, my anxiety didn’t magically go away just because I chose to share that I had it. In fact, I was met with more unsolicited advice by some. Why can’t I just pull myself up by my bootstraps, toughen up, and be grateful for what I do have? Why not take on the approach of “Don’t worry, be happy”? Why do I not just chill the hell out?

Trust me. If it were up to me, anxiety wouldn’t be part of my life. But since it is, I made a decision. I refused to go back to being a scared teenage girl who felt she had to become smaller and quieter so I didn’t make others uncomfortable. Instead, I claim my anxiety as part of who I am.

I’m hopeful that with powerful female celebrities like Lady Gaga and Taraji P. Henson speaking up about their experiences with mental illness, society will move in the right direction. When a woman reveals her mental health struggles, she’ll be met with empathy and community, not unsolicited, uneducated, and unsupportive advice.

It’s time to prioritize our mental health and say good-bye to the nay-sayers.

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If You’re A Mom On The Verge Of Breaking, Read This

I’m tired. My 4-month-old is inconsolable and screaming at the top of her lungs. My boobs hurt from nursing around the clock — it’s the only thing that consistently calms her down — and I have a lingering headache.

All I can think about is how in this moment, motherhood is draining me of all my life force. And I’m pretty sure I’m on the verge of losing it. But, unlike before, I’ve learned that, as a mother who’s struggling, I don’t have to keep everything to myself.

Accepting that I don’t have to pretend to be okay has made my life so much easier.

I’ve seen so many moms, especially young ones, who are regularly told we made the choice to be parents — or at a minimum to have sex — so we deserve to silently deal with the obstacles we face as parents. The messages suggest to us that we should be “surviving instead of thriving” and that we shouldn’t seek help when we need it.

It leaves mothers on the verge of breaking feeling alone and lies to them by saying motherhood should be synonymous with struggle. Trying to process those experiences alone, while thinking no one understands is painful. And it makes it harder for us to be good mothers.

There’s an indescribable amount of space dedicated to discussing the love and pride of motherhood. The world around us loves and even exalts the unwavering sacrifices that moms make for our families and other loved ones.

We’re told that motherhood is beauty, smiles, and roses. Yet no one mentions the thorns. On the rare occasion that we openly discuss how motherhood can feel like drowning, we’re ignored or chastised.

I’ve even heard people suggest if you’re frustrated in motherhood, maybe you don’t deserve to be a mother at all.

None of this is true.

It took a long time for me to understand that the freedom to address the obstacles I face as a mother is even more important than the freedom to discuss the fun of it. By neglecting to display the ways that motherhood can cause an equal number of sorrows and joys, we hurt everyone — including children, parents, and folks who may become parents.

Raising children is beyond overwhelming. It is terrifying to know that you’re responsible for making a person capable of self-sufficiency. But it’s so much more than teaching them to provide for themselves. It’s holding a child’s hand through their most impressionable stages and doing all you can to make someone who doesn’t contribute to all the bad things we hate about the world.

It’s a huge responsibility, and frankly, it’s scary as hell! And many of us have hardly made it to a place that we understand ourselves, let alone understand a child.

That’s a lot of weight to put on our shoulders. It requires acknowledging that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. I’ve finally started coming to terms with the fact that my journey for self-understanding does not make me any less of a good mother.

On the contrary, the more I learn about myself, the more it becomes painstakingly clear that I owe it to everyone to ensure I am doing all I can to learn from these rough patches.
It is okay for me to wake up and take myself to lunch. There’s nothing wrong with me planning a 48-hour trip with the girls so I can reset.

At the same time, we have to remember, self care isn’t always about spending money on massages and bubble baths. If you’re struggling and can’t afford a formal getaway, try to schedule a 15-minute walk. Start journaling if you aren’t feeling heard — that way you know YOU hear you if no one else does. Start volunteering, head to a place with hardly any people and scream at the top of your lungs. There’s always something accessible we can use to de-stress.

It can also be as small as knowing when to tell your family to handle things on their own. Mothers are humans, not pack mules; we can’t carry everyone’s weight on our shoulders. So why do we keep trying?

We’re people with aspirations and goals. Some of what pushes us over the edge is repeatedly telling ourselves our passions don’t matter.

Still, these days, one of the most overlooked aspects of motherhood is knowing when to ask for help. Not just “I need support in a co-parent like fashion.” A deeper “I’m reaching out to a professional because I feel like I’ve been a detriment to myself or my children” type of help.

It’s okay to not be okay. Stepping away for that help isn’t failure. It’s proactive.

In order to do that, you have to spend time with yourself and look for the warning signs. A level of stress and anxiety around motherhood is normal. It’s okay to feel depressed from time to time. However, if you find yourself waking up in physical or emotional pain day after day without knowing why, you need to seek help. Similarly, if you feel like you want to hurt yourself or someone in your family, you need to seek help.

But so many of us miss the warning flags on the way to tragedy because we’re drowning in motherhood. Not to mention, the idealized image of the sacrificial mother convinces us we shouldn’t need time to stop, evaluate, and reset.

It doesn’t work. We can’t keep waiting until we’ve reached our breaking points to seek assistance. As mothers, we must learn to practice preventative self-care.

We have to accept that it’s okay to feel like you’re on the verge of a breakdown. But it’s not a feeling to be ignored. It’s a sign to be acknowledged in the same way that a check engine light on our vehicle means it requires maintenance.

If you feel like you’re always struggling, do some soul searching to put your finger on why. You owe it to yourself to stay in good shape.

Motherhood shouldn’t be all sacrifice and struggle. It’s okay to hate it sometimes. It doesn’t mean you love your children any less.

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I Talk To My Kids About My Suicidal Thoughts

I turned the dial to NPR and took a left, cutting through side streets to avoid rush-hour traffic. My kids and I listened to the news on the way home–an evening ritual. They sat behind me in bulky car seats with five-point-harnesses, one of them with legs dangling and the other kicking the seat. In the rear view mirror, I could see my oldest’s muddy face still flush from running up and down a grassy field, his hair a disheveled nest of twiggy strands from deep dives at soccer practice. It was three years ago, when he was just six years old. We hit a pothole with a bump just as the anchor told us that a beloved comedian had lost his life to suicide.

“What’s that?”

I paused before finding a gentle definition to share, and after, he sighed. “Why would anyone do that?”

These conversations are tricky. Some parents feel unsure if the young people in their lives are ready for these complex and tragic topics. Some need to shield small children from their own realities as survivors who lost caregivers, siblings, or other loved ones to suicide. Many struggle to find a way to cope for themselves, so how could they ever locate the head space and resources to discuss this with kids? Is it even appropriate?

I guess, for me, it just feels honest. Suicidal ideation is a big part of my life–a repetitive intrusion that abruptly interrupts my day, the way notes for a to-do list interject themselves into daydreams. The way some daydreams interject themselves into mundane tasks.

It winks, shamelessly flirting, and leaves a tight, tender throb in my chest when it teases. Like a secret lover sneaking brushes against my body undetected in front of my kids, my spouse, my friends. It’s a persistent street harasser I can’t shoo away. He follows me on my commute to work, whispering about my flaws and insecurities and failings.

As a trauma survivor, I know that the healing process includes more than weekly counseling or getting back to work, school, and “regular” life. For me, it’s meant learning to accept that these feelings will creep in like parasites when I least expect it ,  taking me as a host before I realize they’re present.

Nowadays, we listen to the news at dinner. Forks clang against a ceramic dish as I toss bright tomatoes and vibrant greens: a salad waiting in the middle of the our wooden table. The kids giggle as they bite crescent shapes into fresh, crunchy cucumbers for veggie-themed brows and mustaches. We turn down the radio and settle into our meal, but I still hear it: “The third suicide…” My eyes grow distant and our salad seems pale, limp in my periphery. I tell Alexa in my own robotic staccato to play music so we don’t have to listen to the report. I’m suddenly exhausted with a familiar, achy yearning–the first stage of my climbing anxiety. I want rest, the kind two tired eyelids beg for by pulling towards each other with a magnetic force.

My kids ask what it’s like to contemplate suicide, and I wait for wisdom. I can’t describe my graphic thoughts about my own undoing. The thoughts that seem to replace nutrients in the air with a poison–contaminants that feed me on a cellular level. I can’t tell them that it’s hard to feel the difference between the good and the bad since both mental illness and wellness are an odorless, colorless gas.

I tell them that some days Mommy’s mind travels to space, leaving to explore the darkness while my body stays home to fold laundry, help with homework, smile. I reassure them that I don’t want my life to end, that sometimes those thoughts just take over — that even though they aren’t logical, they’re real and it’s hard to escape their impact when they’re with me.

I explain that even though it doesn’t seem like it’s possible now, someday they might struggle with these feelings–and that doesn’t make either of them bad or weird or scary. Like diabetes or cancer runs through certain families, I know that mine has a history filled with this kind of thing–and that there’s no way to shield my kids from the hurts and traumas that might bring it on. I tell them that this is not something we can help ourselves or our friends through on our own–that we should get help when we recognize the need. We face the hard truth that we already love lots of people who live with this experience even though they haven’t shared it with us.

I tell them what we do to cope. How some dance and sing. How my dad told jokes. How I write and seek community. How we pursue healing.

At times we’re silent, and I struggle to fill the quiet with stammering murmurs, shaking my head with a sad, wrinkled brow. I bite my lip and poke at my dinner, taking slow breaths through my nose to calm my pounding chest. My little ones fidget with their utensils, and I lean over to pat their backs.

They feel safe asking me questions, but I don’t have answers and I don’t want to pretend I do. We talk about how confusing it is for everyone — even and especially for those who struggle to live with these thoughts.

This week, two young adults and a father made national headlines as victims of suicide after experiencing intense, violent trauma related to mass shootings — another serious concern my kids have heard on the radio. I wish the news would broadcast topics easier to discuss , but this is life right now. Our little ones spend tinyhood hiding under desks during school safety drills–planning for what-ifs and worst case scenarios because they happen. Maybe that’s what I’m doing: preparing them for what could happen.

I’m not a danger to myself right now–not in the clinical sense. I don’t have any plans to self-harm or access to weapons I might use against my body. But I recently had the realization that people who kill themselves lived like I live for days or years or decades before taking their own lives. In one moment, the compulsion became too strong and it happened.

Some of them were moms like me with kids like mine. I want my children to know what this is and not be afraid to ask me if I’m okay or to admit to me if they ever struggle–so we work through awkward questions and uncomfortable conversations about suicide. It’s not easy, but we talk about it.

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