My Soul is on Fire, Walker Ladd, Ph.D.

My soul is on fire
in another room,
in another house,
across town,
in a neighborhood where I never go.

My soul is on fire over there;
put in a place where it is safe to burn…
away from the children.

My soul goes there every weekend.
So Friday through Sunday it stays there,
out of my body. Invisible.

What would it take dear Lord to bring it back?
To house it in this hollow chest?
How would it feel inside my ribs? Would I dance? Paint?
Grow breasts where the scars sit? Would I finally feel like me?

Because I am withering here, dear Lord; I am dithering here, dear Lord.
Only motherhood keeps me moored here, dear Lord.
Decay
Disease
Decline
Divorce
Depression

Parts of me rot and float away,
every Friday through Sunday.

I wasn’t done with the memories of
toddlers snuggling
and babies loving.
I wasn’t done with the
scent of my children growing.

On weekends, the smallest flash of a memory of those babies
dissolves my bones down to where
I live now.
Here now.

Here is me, dismembered from
that which ignites me into being,
sparks me into feeling.
Cut off from twenty years
Every Friday through Sunday.

My soul is on fire
in another room,
in another house,
across town,
in a neighborhood
where I never go.

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Skin Stigma

The crepe around my neck. It is what categorizes me in the mirror: Fifty. It is the label of age. Turtlenecks push it all up around the jaw when I look down, giving me additional chins. Crew neck sweaters draw a circle around it as if to decree,

“Hear ye, hear yea…This woman is near 50 and no longer attractive.”

V-neck sweaters would be the clearest option. Draw attention away from the estrogen-deprived skin drooping down my neck. One problem: no boobs. The result is me hitching camisole straps up to my earlobes so that there is a triangle of fabric high enough on my chest to prevent students from seeing scars whenever I reach down to pick something up.

If I had had reconstructive surgery after breast cancer I would at least have a shot at being attractive, despite my age and neck. At least I could wear a v-neck sweater and rock it. For now, fifty festers under the neck skin,  secretly celebrating with the rest of my aging body.  My C-section scar parties with the stretch marks from carrying two babies., while double mastectomy rides shotgun on the way to the club.

Stigma is on my skin.  Tattooed back when I never dreamed I would have to apply for jobs that see tattoos as a sign of delinquency.  Jobs that look down their privileged noses at people wearing hearts on their sleeves. Jobs that speak of proper “attire” and frown upon jeans on a non-casual day. As if they hold a social standard of propriety through a ridiculous pretense of superiority based on pants.

In a long-term marriage,  enjoying my own privilege of not needing a full-time job,  I got tattoos that I never thought I would need to cover. Shame is on my arms, and my skin now hangs loose.  A short, grey-haired, tattooed, saggy skinned woman with too many degrees and no breasts. Oh, yea…that’s a Match.com profile for you! I’m surprised people are not throwing themselves at me on Ventura Blvd.

I had a dream last night that I had a love.  I fear it will never happen again. Who would be attracted to the train wreck of scars, stretch marks, and sagging neck skin? Crow’s feet, brown spots, jowls. It’s as if my skin lurching forward off the bones.  Stigma is on my skin. I have been fast-tracked into being a senior citizen. And I will post this and my sweet friends will say, “but you are beautiful” as if to fix my heart with words that don’t match my reality. Being pragmatic and truth telling has its drawbacks.

And while I see quite clearly that I have turned the Chico’s corner of life,  my integrity, and heart are flawless.  Compassion, humor, courage? I slay. All day.

Last night I had a dream I had a love.  I was wearing jeans.

________________

Walker Ladd, Ph.D. is the Founder of Stigmama and can be seen aging and truth telling in the San Fernando Valley, California.

Summertime, and the living is easy? Vanessa Benson

All the moms at school: “Aren’t you so excited for summer break?”
Me: “ Honestly…… I don’t know” I shamefully whisper.

Am I the only mom whose blood pressure rises slightly when I think of the length of summer? It seems like every other mom is eagerly anticipating summer and having their kids home all the time. I love my kids so so much, but the idea of camp mom 24/7 is a little daunting to me. Maybe my mood is being heavily influenced by a combination of hormones, having 3.5 kids, ages 9, 7, 4, homeschooling two days a week and being up 5 times a night to pee because I’m 5 months pregnant.

I sometimes wonder if I’m cut out for this job. I know, its a little late now that I’m pregnant with number 4. But, my boys’ constant fighting and bickering and what I can only assume is them asserting their need for male dominance is so incredibly draining. It feels as if every time I think I have solved the most recent battle or conflict and gotten my boys to sign the latest peace treaty, I foolishly surmise I can finish the laundry when another volcanic kid erupts…..

”My brothers aren’t letting me play with them, (big tears and screams)” -the whining child

“He’s cheating, he’s such a liar! I wish I didn’t have a brother! I will NEVER play with him again.” -the prideful child

“I can’t help it if they don’t know how to play by the rules, I was just telling them what was fair”- the know-it-all child

So am I just not cut out for this? I think my general threshold of chaos times three is naturally low. It’s hard for me to roll with the constant screams and bloody injuries that need tending to. So I try and plan playdates and schedule activities. It seems like this is the only respite to solve or mildly alleviate sibling rivalry. That and TV.

As I sit here in the peaceful, quiet cool of the morning having my coffee (yes I drink a double shot latte every morning while pregnant) while the kids are all still asleep, I pray and ask God for the patience to not even make it through the day. I’m not asking for miracles, but just to not lose my mind or patience before 9 am. But then I remember that moms have gone before me and weathered the storms and even turned out decent human beings. I remember that there are great moments, swimming, playing cards with kids, hanging out with friends, watching them play unfiltered, unstructured, and the slower pace of summer. But am I “excited” that it’s summer? I’ll tell you after 9:00 AM!

Vanessa Benson
Author of: Out Came The Sun, My hopeful Journey Beyond Postpartum Depression
vanessasbenson.com

When False Information On A Meme Makes You Angry… by Stephanie Paige

The other day on Facebook I came across a meme… actually calling it a meme is too nice. I came across a shitty ad that basically told me and others that are Mentally Ill and medicated that we are now drug addicts. While addiction is a Mental Illness, I have not been diagnosed with it. I am a long time Depressive and Anxiety-ridden Mom that will fully disclose any part of my history because people need to know what it is really like to be Mentally Ill.

When I saw this, I was outraged, furious, and this was at 10 am on a weekday morning in my cubicle at work:

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What made this worse, was this was the pinned post in this group ‘The Free Thought Project’. My blood was boiling. I wanted to break something. Instead, I decided to use this as an opportunity to educate.

I have seen many versions of this ad before (see below) consciously telling people that medication is evil and while I find them offensive, it didn’t hit me as hard as saying I now have a “lifelong addiction”:

 

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Is medication shit? Well, I will flat-out admit I wish I didn’t have to take it, but comparing it to the stuff that would be on my daughter’s diaper years and years ago is a bit much.

Nature as an antidepressant… I agree wholeheartedly that nature is very rewarding.  I am an avid walker and hiker (and snowshoe-er in the cold winter months).  I love being outside.  After a hike, I usually find myself rejuvenated, feeling alive and most importantly happy.  A hike or a walk outside at lunch can ‘turn my frown upside down’.  There are just a couple of things wrong with this statement:  Nature does not have the same effect on everyone and when you are severely depressed. It ain’t going to work. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Being an Alpha personality, a control freak, a perfectionist, I will fully admit that I hated being on meds.  I couldn’t fathom the idea that a little pill (or four) controlled me.  I was only ‘normal’ because of them.  I thought I could get better without them.  I was wrong… very, very wrong.

The first time I was prescribed medication was shortly after my 18th birthday.  It came in the form of a half-white and half-aqua capsule known as Prozac.  I was quickly told not to tell anyone I was taking it.  This was after I held a case cutter I stole from work to my wrist debating whether I should live or die.  This event, I was also told, to not speak of.  Ah, you got to love the stigma associated with being Mentally Ill.  Because of this, I thought medication was wrong, bad, sinful.  How stupid of me.

It wasn’t until my recent episode of Major Depressive Disorder and Severe Anxiety almost three years ago, that while getting better I finally said: “Screw it!”  I didn’t care who knew.  If I had a megaphone, I would probably be screaming it.  There is nothing wrong with being medicated.  I really should create (or order if it exists) a shirt that reads: “Medicated & Proud Of It”.

These people who create these offensive and naïve memes have no idea what it is really like to live with these conditions.  Because it is invisible it doesn’t actually exist.  Because there is no official blood test or genetic test, we all must be making it up.  It is all in our heads… why yes, it is.  Because of a lack of Serotonin, something produced in my brain (i.e. my head) I live daily with two severe illnesses.  I am not making it up.  Who would make up paying monthly for medications, weekly psychiatrist & therapy appointments, being hospitalized, becoming severely delusional, considering hurting or killing yourself?!  Yes, I totally want all of this!

But we live in a society that believes Mental Illness is not on the same level as a Physical Illness.  It is okay if you take lifelong medications for illnesses such as Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, and Cancer and that is not seen as an addiction.  Why is it okay for them but not for people like me?  Why am I considered ‘an addict’?  Why am I ‘faking it’?  I wonder if there was a real test that proved a Mental Illness diagnosis if these views would change.

I have weaned off medications a handful of times.  It can happen.  I lived 4 years med free before I entered into my 6th Major Depressive Episode.  Once on medication again, I took a hard look at my husband, my daughter, and my parents and told myself I didn’t want to see them suffer anymore.  I didn’t want to suffer anymore.  I decided then and there to never ever go off my antidepressant.  Lexapro and I will remain the best of friends.  I am not ashamed of my med.  Without it, I would be in a very dark place or not here at all.

To ‘The Free Thought Project’: research more on what is truth and what is fiction.  I don’t care if you lean liberal or conservative.  The Mentally Ill are a large population and by posting this, you are making us want to hide more.  Because of this, many people will stay silent.  Because of this, many people will not get the help they need.  Because of this thinking, more deaths by suicide will occur.  Remember that old adage “Stop and think before you speak”?  It would have come in handy here.

To all my fellow people with Mental Illness, please do not hide.  Do not believe a word of this absurdity.  There is help.  A walk in the woods can help, but it is not a cure.  It will not help as much as therapy and medication.  Remember:

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___________________________

About Stephanie Paige: I am a mid 30-something  wife, Architectural Project Manager and most importantly, mom to a beautiful yet hormonal 10-year-old girl. My passion is the outdoors (whether hiking, snowshoeing or gardening), reading, writing, and advocating for Mental Illness & Maternal Mental Health.

My history starts at the tender age of 14 and over the last 20+ years, I have been through 6 episodes of Major Depressive Disorder, 2 episodes of Extreme Generalized Anxiety Disorder, 2 hospitalizations and a multitude of medications and therapies.

I am a repeat contributor to both Stigma Fighters and The Mighty.  I have also been a guest blogger on Postpartumprogress.com. In 2016 I was published in Stigma Fighter’s Anthology II, interviewed for an article in Esperanza Spring 2016 magazine and a contributing author for a book about Perinatal Mood Disorders, A Dark Secret.

Read more about Stephanie Paige at her site,  S. Paige Writes: Rising From The Ashes: My 20+ Years With Mental Illness

@SPaigeWrites