The Struggle Bus is Running Out of Gas

These past few weeks have been very hard on me. I keep writing that sentence every time I blog, but things have gotten worse. Or harder. Maybe I’m hitting that wall that we were supposed to hit back in September. Maybe I was too optimistic about a vaccine being ready this year. Maybe it’s the weight of the election. Maybe it’s all of the above.

I keep reading these articles about how women are the ones holding onto all the responsibilities in the household. I know plenty of women whose partners just expect them to do all the things. I am not married to one of those men. But, I do struggle with letting go of control. Things need to be just so. I’m also the queen of guilt, which makes prioritizing things difficult. In my head, I might want to stay home and read on the deck while my kids go for a bike ride around the neighborhood, but then I feel guilty because shouldn’t I *want* to be with them?

I mentioned this to my psychiatrist yesterday (I had a regularly scheduled check up for my ADHD meds) and she was quite gentle with me. Honestly, I am with my kids all the time. Even when we are in different rooms, we’re still together. Motherhood does not need to turn into a sacrifice where we lose ourselves. When I had L1 8 years ago, I dealt with postpartum depression because I lost myself. I felt like all I did was exist within this bubble with this little baby that demanded and demanded and no matter what I did, it wasn’t enough. I recognize that feeling here. I am trying my hardest to make things as “normal” as possible, and I’m sacrificing things that are so important to me in the process– time for reading, my research (that I actually enjoy!!!), and just enjoying quiet time.

The other key in this is letting go of control. Did I mention how wonderful my husband is? He is truly my equal in all things. Over the weekend, I mentioned how stressed I was and he was asked what he could do to help. And it was sincere. But, it wasn’t until my psychiatrist asked me what I could give to him to do. Because, here I was doing all THIS stuff, and he was asking what he could help me with and I kept saying “I got this” when clearly I didn’t. So, this morning, I asked him to take over our daughter’s preschool “curriculum”. Basically, my mom watches her while I school L1, and my mom likes us to have a list of things for her to do: read this book, do these workshops, this craft/art activity, and this math/sorting activity. It’s pretty straight forward, and yet it is a bit time consuming to get ready, so instead of killing myself to get it done, it’s now my husband’s responsibility. Of course I’ll help him, but it’s now on his plate, not mine.

So, next time someone asks what they can do to help, LET THEM DO IT. It might not be done in exactly the same manner you are doing it, but does that matter when it comes to your mental health? (the answer should be no, but I also know how long it takes to get to that point.)

You Are Enough

September 25th is National Psychotherapy Day. One of my mom friends who I met when I was pregnant with L1 through a Birth Month Board *is* a licensed therapist and posted about it last week as well as her own journey through therapy. I thought she had such courage in sharing and wanted to share my story too. I forgot about it until I read about Chrissy Teigen and John Legend’s pregnancy loss this morning. I’ve always admired Chrissy since she spoke out about her infertility and IVF journey. As I shared this with my husband over coffee, I was reminded once again how sharing normalizes things like therapy and loss. So, I made this a priority.

I started seeing a therapist regularly in 2014. To be honest, so much of my own self-worth has been wrapped up in being the smartest person in the room. When my chair and then my dean broke ranks with the department and college committees who recommended tenure and promotion in my case, I was broken. I had been counting on the dean to remedy the situation created by my chair, and when that didn’t happen, something inside me just broke. It was right before spring break and I spent a few weeks just laying on my sofa, staying at the ceiling, numb. I had been on anti-depressants since my struggle with postpartum depression after my son’s birth in 2012, and I called my doctor to have her adjust the meds. She suggested that I start seeing a therapist and I thought that it couldn’t hurt, especially since I had insurance. My therapist, a man my age, really helped me realize that I was struggling with imposter syndrome and finding my own self-worth.

Unfortunately, I started seeing him in his last few months at that practice. I was reassigned to another therapist and she was not what I needed. She would forget details and (in my opinion) did not provide a space for us to deal with triggers in my every day life. So I stopped seeing her. I was at a place where I felt stable enough. If there is one thing I have learned during my therapy journey, it is that you need to find the therapist that works for YOU. Don’t just stick with one because that’s the one you found. You are just wasting your time.

About a year later, I was gutted and triggered again by another incident at work. After seeing a different PCP at my usual practice (it’s almost impossible to keep the same doctor in a college town!), they suggested I see someone at a new practice that catered specifically to women and children. I called and was matched with a therapist named C. C was exactly who I needed at the moment: she too had dealt with infertility and, again, worked hard to teach me coping mechanisms and reality checks to get through my every day work life. She was one of the first people I texted when I found out I was pregnant with L2 (!!) and, because of life, a new baby, and a shitty election, I stopped seeing her as I felt like I had the tools necessary to move through life.

When I received my ADHD diagnosis in 2019, after spending years thinking that I was exhausted because I was depressed or fat or had sleep apnea (thanks American medical system). Nope. ADHD can actually exhaust you from the mental Olympics that take place each day. The psychiatrist who diagnosed me suggested I start seeing a new therapist to deal with my trauma after my breakdown at MPSA 2019. I remember this conversation. Her: “Yeah, I think your travel anxiety is trauma related.” Me: “What trauma? Nothing really horrible ever happened in my life.” Her: “Sure, that’s what you think. But your body doesn’t agree.”

And wouldn’t you know, she was right. I started seeing a new therapist in August 2019, who specialized in ERDM therapy. ERDM has been used to help soldiers deal with their PTSD, and let me tell you… it is incredibly effective. My psychiatrist was right: there was some childhood trauma that I had buried way down deep and convinced myself that it didn’t affect me in the way it had shaped my own self-worth in reality. That whole idea of “if I’m not the smartest in the room, who am I?” originated here and basically shaded every major depressive episode in my life, as well as my everyday life, who I trusted, who I related to, as well as who I dismissed as not worthy of my time and energy. I stopped seeing my therapist in June 2020, because we had been doing teletherapy and I didn’t want to try ERDM in that manner because I was worried about a lot of things, but it is amazing to see how this experience has changed my life, made me more aware of myself in relation to my children and my extended family, and also, has changed my own personal view on my worth as a person, mother, and friend.

I am not afraid to say that I am probably at a better place in my life than I have ever been. It’s just a shame that it took me until I was almost 40 years old to deal with my trauma rather than continually diminishing its effects as being not “traumatic” enough. Sure, people have experienced some really crappy and horrific things in their lives that I was lucky enough to avoid. But my trauma is mine and I see now how it shaped the way I interacted with everyone and even how I saw myself. I still struggle with certain triggers, but I can now recognize these feelings rather than letting them take over my life.

All this to say that good therapy works. I have no shame in saying that therapy has changed my life. Without it, I’d be repeating the cycle of triggers and depression because of my lack of self-worth. Therapy is a very basic form of self-care. You aren’t alone. Therapy can help.