Warrior On

Six years ago I was a month postpartum with my youngest child.  I was having a glorious postpartum period; far better than what I had experienced with my other two children.  There were a lot of factors that played into this healthier postpartum period, however, they would soon become irrelevant.  What I didn’t know six years ago was that it was all going to come crashing down around me in just a few short months.

When the darkness started to close in and I was alone and not sleeping, I found Twitter.  Then I found #ppdchat.  Then I found Jill Krause and Baby Rabies who helped me learn that Postpartum Anxiety was a THING (and something I had).  Then I found Postpartum Progress (PPI).

As my healing progressed, my involvement with PPI progressed.  I participated in the annual Climb Out of the Darkness event on my tiny little personal scale.  I went to the annual conference twice – both times were life altering.  I became a Warrior Mom Ambassador so I could bring PPIs wisdom and support to my corner of the world.

I began to believe that my experience mattered.  I began to really feel like a Warrior Mom. 

I loved Postpartum Progress.  I loved what it signified.  I loved the community.  I loved the guidepost it was in my healing journey.  I loved, and still love, the women I met online and in real life.  These women were the most critical part of my story.  I read their blog posts and comments on social media and thought “me, too!” a million times; I got to meet them in person, to sit across from them and say “me, too!” a million times more.

In the past week it became clear that the organization that I loved, that I thought I knew, was not in line with the image it presented.  More importantly, that it was horribly misaligned with my own values.  Accusations of gross cultural incompetency and racial insensitivity came to light.  One woman spoke up, then another, then another until a cacophony of voices, women of color and those who love them, rose up and said “I was hurt, I was used, I was abused”.

It never mattered to me to know exactly happened.  It happened once.  It happened many more times.  And the silence from the beloved leadership was deafening.  When that silence was broken it was a string of platitudes upon platitudes.  A once bright beacon of light for so many flickered until it finally went out.

Today Postpartum Progress announced they were shuttering the organization.  Rather than do the work of becoming culturally sensitive and fighting systemic racism within its own ranks, it took it’s ball and went home.

I am so deeply disappointed.  I have vacillated between sadness, grief, and rage all day (while trying to work a 12 hour shift at my job).  I feel betrayed, I feel cheated, I feel duped.  I feel like leaving hundreds of people high and dry is grossly unethical.  Walking away from this is a slap in the face to all of us who have championed this organization, who have helped built it brick by brick, dollar by dollar.

But within minutes of that announcement I saw, on the horizon, pin pricks of light.  First one, then two, then dozens shining their light, beckoning us all home.  

Postpartum Progress was never about just one person.  My journey to healing was never about just one person.  We were blinded by the light of its leader, we let ourselves fall for an idol that we wanted so badly to exist, and we are crushed by the weight of the truth.

But the most important truth is that the Warrior Moms I came to know and love were the ones lighting the way the whole time.

One person doesn’t make a movement.  We made this movement.  You and me.  In every Tweet, in every Facebook post, in every text, support group and phone call.  We did this.  We created this space to heal in.  We demanded that space be safe for everyone. We have all been here, the whole time, lighting the way for other parents struggling with Postpartum and Perinatal Mood Disorders.  We will continue to be beacons.  We will continue to be the Warriors we are.  We will continue to help other parents believe that they, too, are Warriors.

I’m not going anywhere.  I’m here for you and I know you are there for me.

Warrior On my friends, Warrior On.

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photo credit: Reiterlied The Viking via photopin (license)

Imagine

Many parents and early childhood educators take imaginative play for granted. Yet, when you have parented a child in the spectrum, it’s fairly common that your child will struggle with the abstract and feels safer with the concrete. Not every kid on the spectrum struggles with this, but when my oldest was young, imaginative play just wasn’t on the menu.  

I bought my oldest all the things I could to encourage imaginative play. I got play silks and dolls and a even constructed a homemade wooden play kitchen. And while he did engage in a little imaginative play here and there, it was still very concrete, and it just didn’t come naturally.  

When his sister was 2 and entering that phase of imaginative play, he was 7.  She brought him in with her. Watching her turn an ordinary block into a bed or car amazed him and amazed me. Watching him imagine with her brought me to my knees. 

I thought with the youngest, seeing him discover imaginative play would be old hat. But when he plays, I still have so many feelings.  I never want to interrupt him when he’s in flow with his play. Even though it’s a daily occurrence with him, it’s so deep and complex and I’m still filled with gratitude and awe. 

A rustle of leaves

I feel broken.  I don’t want to sit here and type this because it feels pathetic and like, enough already.  Get a grip, I tell myself.  But I can’t. I don’t have traction anywhere.  I’m slipping and skidding on this mess of a life that I created, that I allowed, that I chose.  Again and again I chose “try” instead of “escape”.  I convinced myself that there is shame in walking away, that it would be ‘giving up’ and that’s a bad thing.  I convinced myself that if we, he, I, could just get through this next Hard Part, things would be brighter, lighter, happier, safe.

Every time I told myself this.  And every time it’s not what happened.  Every time I walked through the fire swamp dodging things I told myself I could handle, battling things other people would have turned and run from, every time I believed.  Every time I had hope.

I had hope this time too.  But hope is a funny thing. Hope is sometimes a false prophecy, a thing that you believe not because you know it’s true, but because your wanting it to be true drowns out even the loudest protests of your intuition.  I’m good at that kind of hope. I give people chances, and second chances, and 72nd chances.  I believe that people are good… or I believe I’m only worthy of the kind of good they have to offer (which, turns out, isn’t really that good at all or the kind of good I really need).

I told myself that if I tried my very hardest, if I turned myself inside out and upside down, if I showed up perfectly, I could save this.  I saw myself as a life raft tossed out into rough waters; I was going to rescue him, rescue us, rescue our family.  But this thing, this category 5 life, it’s too much for me.  It’s too much for anyone.

I don’t want to say I’m giving up.  I never gave up.  I wanted this to work more than I’ve wanted anything in my life to work.  So no, I’m not giving up, it’s just that I have nothing left to give.

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The trees all around me are finally letting go of their beautiful, dead leaves.  Leaves that once brought them food and energy have reached the end of their lives.  In the tree’s last breath of gratitude, she knows she can no longer hold onto them anymore.  She has to give herself time, without heavy, dead things sapping her minimal resources.   It’s time for the tree to acknowledge what she can give and what she can’t.  It’s time for her to slow her breath, focus inside herself, brace herself for the cold, harsh, lonely winter.  The tree lets them fall, one at a time, until her arms ache with emptiness.

The winter will be brutal.  She may become coated with ice, wind bending and cracking in her branches, shivering with loneliness.  But before she knows it, spring will come.  It always does.  She will be able to feel the warmth of the sun deep in her core again.  Life will churn in her, sap will flow in her veins once more, her roots will stretch a little further into the thawing earth, and new growth will sprout from her fingertips.  It hurts… the saying goodbye, the empty arms, the stretching and waking up again.  She will survive it, though, she always does.

I know spring will come.  I know it’s time to let these things, this relationship, drift gently away on a wind that I can’t control.  Still, I breathe sharp, ever colder air in my lungs.  I’m scared.  It doesn’t matter much that I know things will be fine eventually – it’s the time between now and eventually that feels treacherous.  I want to turn back, but there’s no where to turn.  Time stubbornly marches forward and I am compelled to march alongside, no matter how unwilling I am.

While I march alone in the darkness of this, I will hold onto spring like a talisman, a promise of thawing and warmth.  A promise of rebirth.  It may be the only thing that gets me through.

~~~

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On not being okay…

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When people ask me how I’m doing, I respond “I’m breathing”.  It’s not a lie.  It’s not the story.  I’m tired of telling the story.  I’m tired of the story period.

I’m tired of how I feel like I’ve been written into this story against my will, forced to play a role I don’t want to play.  But no one is truly forcing me, are they?  Technically, I can cut the strings and say goodbye to this mess. But I don’t want to.  I’m still holding out for a miracle. I really want to believe in miracles.

I’m not good at change.  I know, you aren’t either.  Some people are; I’m suspicious of those people, for the record.  But I’m not at all good at this sort of thing. When you’re from a background where your life was full of land mines, you either get good at uncertainty, or you don’t.  I didn’t.

Uncertainty is scary.  Unfortunately, it’s also how life is.

What’s going on right now is really hard to talk about.  A huge portion of what’s going on for me is borne out of the what’s going on with someone else, and mostly what they’re doing about it.  Someone who I care deeply for.  Someone who I believe I was meant to meet in this life because I believe we have known each other in previous life times.

What’s going on for this person is his story. His journey. His truth. His stuff.

And because the Universe works the way it does (I’m starting to figure out your tricks you little vixen) I am coming to realize that my part in this is to figure out just which parts are actually mine.  Fine. Lesson time.  I get it.  Well, I don’t get it, but I will. Or at least I’ll keep getting bashed over the head with ‘opportunities’ until I do.

These lessons are painful.  They are confusing.  I do NOT want to do this work.  I don’t want to cry myself to sleep one more goddamned time.  I don’t want to feel shooting pains down my arms as I weep out of grief, confusion and loss.  I don’t want to have to tell my children “I don’t know” when they ask questions I can’t answer.  I want answers.  I want a crystal ball.  At this point, even a Magic 8 Ball will do.

My resistance to what is, is taking a toll. I’m not sleeping very well. I look forward to the distraction of going to work. I feel the familiar, and unwelcome, spin of obsessive thoughts, of checking and rechecking, of unfounded fears and worries. I know I need to get off the hamster wheel, there is no question. But I can’t force myself to do it, not yet. I can’t surrender hope. I can’t surrender to the possibility that in the end of this I may lose something so precious to me, something my heart and soul are invested in.

Maybe that’s the lesson, too. The losing. The letting go.

Whatever it is, I’m not ready.

~~~

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Sisterhood of the Traveling Hearts 

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I had some expectations going into the Warrior Mom Conference last weekend.  I expected I would meet some new people, meet people I had only previously ‘met’ in a little tiny box on my computer and that I’d be able to squash my social anxiety long enough to do those two things somewhat successfully.  Aside from getting super shy about meeting people I already ‘knew’, I was mostly successful.

I try to do a lot of observing when I’m in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable place – be that physical or emotional.  Kind of like watching things from a seat in the way back, trying not to qualify, quantify or judge, just seeing and feeling. That’s how it was there, and that’s how it’s been this week as I’ve tried to navigate life after the Warrior Mom Conference.

What I’m noticing is that there was so much more that happened at WMC that I didn’t expect, things that are slowly and patiently unfurling themselves in my consciousness.

It was an environment that was the most emotionally safe space of its size probably ever.  Not only was it emotionally safe, but vulnerability was everywhere, glistening like beautiful, prismatic jewels wherever you looked.

Wherever I looked, whatever I asked, whatever I felt, it was okay.

It was okay to be sad.  It was okay to feel grief.  It was okay to laugh.  It was okay to be messy and raw.

It was okay to not be okay.

One of the more surprising things I noticed was my connection to other women.  I used to be a practicing lesbian, so I’m all about ‘rah rah women’.  I took Women’s Studies.  I worked for a rape crisis hotline.  I swore I’d never buy my daughter a Barbie.  The prominent figures in my family are women.  I was raised by a young, single mom. I have one sibling, a sister.  I get women.

Or so I thought.  At WMC I felt a connection with other women that I’ve never really felt before and I didn’t even realize it until I got home. Earlier this week, as I went about my normal(ish) life, I noticed I was seeing other women in a different way.  I started really seeing these women… moms I didn’t know, moms at Trader Joe’s, moms at work, moms at the gas station. I felt this connection I hadn’t felt before.  It hit me like a brick; when it comes to relationships with other women, with other moms, I’m guarded.  Even with my friends who tell me about their messy, I still keep some walls up, it still doesn’t feel safe, I still carry shame around my illness and how it plays out in my life.  I still judge myself very harshly for things I did (and do) when I’m most unwell.

But last weekend I sat with 100 other women who knew, who got it, who felt the same shame and said ‘it’s okay, you’re okay, we are OKAY’.  They said ‘even though these illnesses have made it scary to look in the mirror at times, it’s not your fault, you are fighting, you are healing, you are (or will be) okay’.

Surrounded by that love and truth, the final fragments of the wall I’d been hiding behind came down.  I saw these amazing women in ways I have never been able to see myself.  And because of that, because of the connection we share, I could finally see in myself what I saw in them – beautiful, whole, loving women and mothers.

I feel so blessed to finally feel a true sisterhood with other women.  It took 100 women traveling from all over the world for me to get there, women like me who dragged their anxiety along like a pissed-off, boneless toddler, to show up, to open their hearts, to show me the truth, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

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What I Want You To Know

As soon as the Warrior Mom Conference was announced I knew I had to go and bought a ticket the minute they were available. The few moments of doubt that I had were quickly silenced by a visceral knowing that I needed to be with these women, my people, my fellow Warrior Moms. Some of these women I had known online since I first realized I was spiraling down again after my youngest was born, 4 years ago.  Getting to know them through social media, participating in #ppdchat, and reading Postpartum Progress, helped me get the right diagnosis and helped me get better treatment.

This past weekend I got on a packed bus, navigated myself and my suitcase through the steaming subway and emerged from the underground of Boston into the arms of the most beautiful, brave group of women I have ever had the gift of knowing.

It wasn’t easy.  It was full of joy and emotions and deep truths.  I will be processing the gifts and struggles of this weekend for quite some time.  I feel most called to speak my truth, finally.  Not just here in my tidy corner of the internet, but out loud, out there, in my life.  I need to tell my story for myself, as part of my healing, and for other women, so that they may know that there is hope, that they are Warriors, and that we are in this together.

Though the truth is, before this weekend, I didn’t really feel authentic calling myself a Warrior Mom most of the time.  I’ve come a long way… a very long way… but there’s a part of my brain (a very obnoxious part of my brain) that tells me I don’t get to call myself a Warrior Mom until I’m there.

But where is “there”? This weekend showed me where “there” is.

Right here.  Right now.

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Even though I wanted to quit, really quit, many times, I’m still here.  I’m still in this fight.

I am a Warrior Mom.

And so are you.

~~~

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Let Me Fall

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The work thing is still unresolved.  One supervisor called (the one who does the schedule) to get clarity on what my decision was and talk about what hours I want and am able to work.  The supervisor I was talking to Friday then e-mailed me to tell me to call the scheduling supervisor, which I had already done, so they could announce the decision.  I wanted to e-mail back and say “you guys need to talk to each other, you share an office ferchrisakes”.  But I didn’t.

When I talked to the scheduling supervisor, I stumbled a bit, tripping in my co-narcissism shoes.  My brain was itching as I spoke to her; I was trying to balance being accommodating while advocating for myself and I was doing a terrible job.  I couldn’t bring myself to say what I really wanted for fear of being seen as ungrateful for them giving me not only a set schedule as a per diem, but giving me a say in those hours.  Both of those are exceedingly rare.

I noticed that I get confused when I’m grateful – I have convinced myself that if I am grateful to another person for doing something for me, that negates my right to stand up for myself. I’ve gotten the message, somewhere, that if I am assertive and if I put my needs first, then I am actually being UNgrateful. That’s some screwed up math right there.

So after our call, I e-mailed her and told her two of the days she was thinking about giving me wouldn’t really work.  I could do one, or the other, but not both. I told her which days I preferred to work. She e-mailed me back and what she had to offer really didn’t work well either.  So I told her so.

Do you know how huge that was for me?

The Man did not.  When I told him about it, he started to get indignant – he’s already a bit miffed that I didn’t stand my ground about the position I wanted.  He said a lot of “you should” at the beginning of his sentences.  At this point in my healing from the effects of a narcissistic parent, being told what to do is a GIANT trigger.  I had to end our phone call because I was about to lose it.

I am acutely aware of what I “should” be doing.  All. The. Time.

I don’t need other people to tell me what I “should” be doing.  Not. Your. Job.

I don’t need any coaches yelling at me from the sidelines of my life.  My. Life.

I don’t need anyone to teach me how to stand up for myself.  I. Need. To. Learn.

It’s through these experiences I learn.  It’s through the discomfort of knowing when I’m not standing up for what I want, for my values, for my beliefs – that discomfort tells me to pay attention, that discomfort shows me where I can make better choices.

You can’t teach a person how to ride a bike by riding it for them or screaming at them from the side of the road.  They have to get on the bike, learn how to put just the right amount of pressure on the pedals to move forward, learn to keep that front wheel from wobbling, and learn how to come to a stop without skidding.

I’m on the bike.  I’m pedaling.  I’m still pretty wobbly.  I’m hitting potholes and soft stand.  I’m getting skinned knees.  But I’m learning.  Help me up.  Help me clean and bandage my wounds.  But don’t point out the pot holes, I know I hit them.  I know I fell down.  I know I have gravel mixed in with the torn tissue on my knee caps and the heels of my hands; I don’t need you to point out all the ways I could have prevented that from happening.

I know. This is how I learn. Let me do it.

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