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In Sickness and in Health

When Zachary and first met he told me that as a kid he had been misdiagnosed with ADHD and Bipolar Disorder. In his words, his mom’s quack doctor was just pushing meds on him for being a kid. This was not the most unreasonable thing I had ever heard. Lots of kids are misdiagnosed with ADHD and I’d never seen him display what I would consider to be typical Bipolar behaviors. Yes, I’d seen him get mildly depressed for a few days here and there, but lots of people experience bouts of depression. He also suffers from Chronic Kidney Disease which can cause depression. As far as manic behaviors, Zachary is kind of just a wild man in general. He’s lively, spontaneous, has no filter, and is full of ideas that probably aren’t good ones, but he makes them seem like they might be, and that is who he is 365 days a year. (Give or take a few to account for depression.) I could see how he could very easily be misdiagnosed with Bipolar Disorder or ADHD, but fully believed that he just was who he was.

After Zachary and I had been married for a few months he fell into a cycle of depression. In the past when he’d have a few days like this, I’d push him to go to the gym and work out. We’d go to the beach or take a little day trip and he’d be back to his usual self. His depression never lasted for more than a few days and it  was always relatively easy to convince him to do what he needed to do to re-balance. This time around was different though. At the time, Zachary was just working one scheduled shift a week and would pick up extra shifts if they were available. He didn’t pick up any shifts and was home for many days straight. Every day when I would leave for work I’d suggest going down to the gym or ask him to run an errand to get him out of the house. I’d come home from work to find that he hadn’t left all day, or changed his clothes, or even left the spot he’d been sitting at when I left for work 9+ hours prior. After a week plus of this, I finally asked why he was refusing to go to the gym when he knew it would make him feel better, or why he hadn’t at least walked down to the nearby library to return books. He told me that he had tried to go outside and walk to the library that day, but that he couldn’t because he was afraid. I asked what he was afraid of and he said he wasn’t sure, but mostly the people. Under any other circumstances I would have thought that he was messing with me. Zachary isn’t afraid of anything, especially not the two elderly ladies who worked in the library or the possible neighbor family that might have passed him in the parking lot. I knew that something was wrong beyond just a little bit of depression. He wasn’t himself at all and the more I thought about it, the more I could put together a pattern of extremes in his behavior between depression, his usual self, and hypo mania. He didn’t believe that he had Bipolar Disorder, but I fully did and I had no idea what to do.

I kept thinking about our wedding vows and how serious the “in sickness and in health” part had been to me as I said it a few months before when I considered his kidney disease and what I knew we had to face in the years to come as a result of that. I had no idea that I’d be hiding in the shower, 5 months into marriage and 5 months pregnant, realizing my husband was having  mental health issues with no idea what to do to help him.

I don’t remember how that particular cycle of depression ended, but it did. I eventually told him that I thought he really did have Bipolar Disorder which started a couple years of him going back and forth between denying it and accepting it. In that time we’ve come up with a few strategies to help minimize the effects of the depression, identified triggers that cause him to go up and down more frequently, a support system for when nothing else is working, a failed attempt at medication, an ER trip for heart attack that turned out to be anxiety, and moments of walking away from each other because he wasn’t where we could talk things out and I wasn’t where I could be patient enough to help him.

This probably just sounds discouraging and honestly, there are seasons where things are discouraging and it seems like we’re just stuck in a rapid cycle of negativity. There are also long spans of time where everything seems easy and Zachary is just Zachary.

In sickness and in health has taken on a whole new meaning to me than it had when I first promised it. It is harder than I thought it would be, in a different way than what I expected, but if I had known before hand what I was getting into, it wouldn’t have changed anything. Bipolar Disorder wouldn’t have scared me away from Zachary. It’s there and we face it. Sometimes better than other times, but always together.

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*Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on mental health or Bipolar  Disorder. I have only a BA in psychology and my personal experience from living with someone who has Bipolar Disorder and my career in human services. I am not qualified to asses or diagnose, but simply share my experience from my personal perspective in the hopes to encourage those in similar situations and bring awareness and understanding.

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Just a Mom

I don’t think that I ever really wanted to be a mom. I always felt like I’d probably end up having a family someday in the far, unforeseeable future, but it wasn’t something that I spent time dwelling on. I never felt this strong call to motherhood. I had things I wanted to do and see and if kids came along then great, but it was never at the front of my mind as something that I really wanted. When we got married, Zachary and I both had goals to travel, obtain further education, and do humanitarian projects. We agreed that we’d talk about a family in 3-5 years, but first we needed to help change lives and make a difference.

To be perfectly honest, I had a really hard time with finding out I was pregnant with A. I was shocked, and completely unprepared. We had just gotten married and were in the beginning stages of planning to do a teach abroad program in Morocco. I was terrified of giving birth and even more afraid of how we were going to figure out the logistics of work and child care and still see our child. I was also a little bit disappointed. There were a lot of things that I wanted to do that I felt like I wouldn’t be able to do with a small child, such as the teach abroad program or other humanitarian efforts. It wasn’t that we could never do those things, but I knew that I wouldn’t be comfortable doing many things now that I was responsible for another life. It felt like really bad timing and I felt really guilty for feeling that way, but I also felt like I’d been cut short. I wasn’t going to get to do things (good things, for other people) that I had always dreamed of doing.

I think I always had this mindset that being a mom was a good thing, but its wasn’t that special. I didn’t want to be just a mom. I mean, what do mom’s do? Nothing really amazing… change diapers, drive people places, cook dinner… It’s not spectacular or world changing. But then A was born, and my world was totally changed. I was a mom and it seemed like nothing else mattered anymore outside of our little family. Everything that I had previously cared to do in life was insignificant compared to the privilege and responsibility of being a mom. I realized being a mom was a lot more than just taking care of someone until they could do it themselves. I grew that person and I loved that person in a way that no one else could. I was responsible to not just help her grow up but to raise her to be someone who makes a difference.

I always thought that helping others and changing the world had to be done through big, self sacrificing efforts. I’ve realized that raising decent human beings counts too. Teaching your children to be kind, forgiving, helpful and responsible… showing them through your own actions how to put others first. Those things are important and world changing too and they are incredibly fulfilling. They are also difficult and exhausting and require a lot of self sacrifice. I fail daily in this role, but every day I have a new opportunities to change the world through the little girl who changed mine.

Being a mother has been the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever experienced. I don’t think it’s a path I would have chosen. It’s one that I was put on instead of what I’d planned for myself and I’m grateful for it. I’m just a mom. If I never accomplish anything else outside of motherhood, my life won’t have been waisted. If my children grow up and know that they were loved, if they can show compassion, and if they can care for others, then I made a difference, even if it’s just a small one.

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The Blessing of Being Inconvenienced

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how things are. Trying to figure out how to make our schedules work between jobs,  Zachary’s changing school schedule, and child care is not  an easy task. The other night the thought went through my mind that things would be so much easier to figure out if we didn’t have kids. So many things would be so much more convenient if we didn’t have to work around the cares and concerns of being parents. (In saying that, I don’t at all mean to imply that I regret having kids. It’s just a fact that they complicate things.)

Kids are not convenient. Being a parent is full of inconveniences and doing things that are hard and poorly timed. Sickness always comes in the middle of the night, they start cutting teeth on 5 hour plane flights. Every single potty emergency happens on the interstate when you are 50 miles from an exit. Sleep strikes happen during the work week and not on the weekend when you at least have a chance to take a nap, and without fail, there are 30539 questions that need to be answered as soon as you take a phone call. Kids are a lot of work. They pretty much have the worst timing and they are so needy. Seriously, I really thought the neediness would decrease with age, but it really seems to increase.

My point in all of this though is that despite the inconveniences of parenting, children are not an inconvenience. They are a blessing. It is an absolute privilege to be the only person who can fix the seam on my daughter’s socks just right because I know and understand that struggle (it’s genetic.)  It is a privilege to answer her 30539 questions a day and help her mind grow and understand the world. It is the greatest gift to be the mama that A’s sweet little voice is going to call for tonight at 3 AM when she wakes up and needs to be tucked back in. Yes, I am tired of the same questions. No, I don’t want to get out of bed when I’ve already been up 10 times because of the baby who lives on my bladder. I would really love to be able to have an uninterrupted conversation with another adult, and it would be incredible to eat an entire meal without having to get up multiple times, clean a spill, or give endless reminders on manners. But instead my life is full of little inconveniences each day that remind me of how selfish I am, and how much someone else needs me and counts on me. Someone who trusts me and thinks that I am smart enough to know the answers to all of her questions and believes that I am capable of doing anything and everything. My daughter has absolute faith in me. She is not an inconvenience. She is not a burden and caring for her is a privilege. I’d rather spend the rest of my life being inconvenienced for the sake of my children, than to have a smooth and easy life without them.ACS_0010

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Lately…

I have seriously neglected blogging for the past 6 months. Partly because I have been hibernating all winter. Mostly because I have the worst case of baby brain that doesn’t allow me to string an entire intelligent thought together most days, let alone an entire blog post.

I have a whole list of things sitting in the back of my mind waiting to get out and be shared and it’s hard to know where to start. I am kind of stuck in baby mode. Zachary wants to know when I will start nesting. Maybe this is it? Blogging about how to prepare a 3 year old for big-sisterhood? Or maybe how to get a 3 year old to sleep through the night before we have a newborn? If anyone has any great ideas on either of those things, please share. I’ve pretty much tried everything imaginable in the sleep department, including swaddling.

Lately we’ve been working hard on turning our mama’s girl into more of a daddy’s girl before the baby comes and she realizes that her plan of having me carry both of them around at the same time isn’t going to work out. I think some kids are just naturally inclined towards having a stronger attachment to one parent over the other, but I haven’t helped it by being a baby hog. I have always jumped to do the night time feedings, dressing, stroller pushing, comforting, and snuggling. It’s not that Zachary doesn’t do those things or isn’t willing to, I just haven’t given him a chance and have created a child that is totally dependent on me. I by no means do everything, but I have taken over on things and when A puts up a fight over me helping her vs her dad, I tend to give in the avoid the drama. I finally realized this when bending over to give hair washes became difficult. Only took 3 years…

I’ve started staying back on park trips and taking baths before A’s bedtime, leaving her to watch Planet Earth with her dad, or have “cheese parties” with him. I used to feel like I needed to be apart of every moment that the three of us have together, but that’s really deprived Zachary and A of having the same quality one on one time that we naturally get due to Zachary’s work schedule. Zachary teases me that I have to be included in everything and never want to miss out on the fun and it’s kind of true. In my defense, they do a lot of things that sound really fun and if I leave them alone for too long, they come up with little pranks to play on me. I’m learning to settle for eavesdropping on them though and it’s possibly better. It really is the most heart warming thing to hear A call for her daddy in the night or say that she misses him because he is “so precious.”

We are getting there.. at least on the daddy stuff. I’m not quite sure where we stand on the sleeping through the night part, or how things will work out when baby comes, so feel free to help me out there.

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These are the Days

I realized the other day that I very well might be living the best days of my life. The days that you look back on and think “THOSE were the days.” They are messier than I expected. The days blur together in a constant flow of chaos, bills, laundry, and unfinished to do lists. I honestly have to think hard to remember what we did just two weekends ago. It isn’t hard to enjoy these days though, despite them being less perfect than I had imagined, I just have to remind myself to stop and do it.

Lately I’m so caught up in trying to stay on top of things that it’s easy to miss out on the memories that are being made. My mind is so full of things that I need to remember to take care of that if I’m not careful to document moments, I’m worried that I will lose them. I’m working hard to give my entire attention to the things that I want to remember… Like the sound of a happy little feet running back and forth and the jumbled up words to Moana songs being sung with great conviction. Sometimes the non stop questions and endless needs aren’t convenient for me, but I know they’re moments that I’ll want back as soon as they’re gone.

I realize that I spend a lot of my life looking forward to things. I look forward to Saturdays, the one day a week that we get to spend together as a family. As soon as it ends I look forward to Tuesday afternoons (when Zachary is home from his 48 hours at work, and I am off work for the rest of the day.) I look forward to having more kids, to Zachary being finished with his degree, to someday living abroad… all things that are well and good, and all of which are currently “ifs” and “whens” and “maybes.”

I’m so very content with our little life. I really do love it, but it’s easy to get caught up in looking forward to when it’s going to be “better” or “easier.” When I really think about it, I know it will never be better or easier. As soon as one source of stress is gone a new, different one will come, yet I am still guilty of glamorizing our unknown future. I’ve always done this and it’s something I want to change, because when I’m caught up looking at how good the future could be, I miss out on how beautiful our now is.

So here is to the happy little now. The days that I want to look back on and remember for being so very good. The days that I will remember having enjoyed and not wasted by daydreaming of better days. Because really, how could life be any better than it already is?

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Hey Jealousy…

I don’t consider myself to be a jealous person. Generally, when something good happens for someone else, I am happy for them. Growing up in a big family, my parents emphasized sharing each other’s joy, and that life isn’t fair. I was taught early on in life that it isn’t worth it to be miserable over what you don’t have, but rather to be grateful for what you do have, and I usually am. With one exception…

I am super jealous of my stay at home mom friends. Last week I had a day off and spent it pretending to be a stay at home mom. I took my daughter for a coffee date, we listened to records and played games, and during nap time, I mopped the floors with a real mop and water (vs my usual speed mopping with the Swiffer.) I loved every moment of it. I loved doing little tasks around the house and not rushing to get them done because it was late and I needed to go to bed. I loved getting to have all the good parts of the day with A, not just the part where she tries to get an entire days worth of attention from me during the 3 hours window between making dinner and going to bed. I loved just being at home.

I spent the rest of last week working on being content with where I am in life right now and trying to be happy for my mom friends who post Instagram stories of morning walks with the kids to get coffee,or baking during nap time. I know several of those friends would love to trade a day of chasing toddlers for a day in the office interacting with other adults, and I get it. I just kind of wish I could be on their side too.

I always try to figure out what I can learn from the place I am at in life, especially when it isn’t where I’d prefer to be. I know that working keeps me from falling into my introvert, hermit tendencies, and forces me to stay on top of things that I would otherwise likely procrastinate on. I also do like my job and I do feel that what I do makes a difference in other people’s lives. My daughter is too young to understand what I do, but she does know that I go to work to help people. She constantly asks me to stay home from work, but accepts it when I tell her someone needs my help. If nothing else, she is learning to sacrifice our time together to benefit someone in need. I am continuously learning to find joy in what I do, whether it’s going to work or washing a days worth of dishes at 10 p.m. or having a pretend stay at home mom day.

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Life With My Bipolar Bear

I always want to write about Bipolar but I stop myself. I guess I never want to come off as if I am trying to get sympathy or am complaining. Everyone has their own thing(s) that make life difficult for them. It’s life. Bipolar Disorder is our thing… or one of them at least. The biggest reason I hold back though, is to protect Zachary. Bipolar has a bad rap. It seems to be pretty socially acceptable to just throw “Bipolar” around as a label for anyone or anything that is unstable (you know, like the weather or mass murderers.) When it comes up that Zachary is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, people get weird. Their eyes get big and they smile like you are joking but they’re worried that you aren’t and they don’t know what to say. In a way, you can’t blame a person. Mental health issues are such a stigma. As soon as you say a person is diagnosed with a mental health condition, they become their condition. I hate that. I always feel like I need to protect Zachary from that. I feel like I need to protect him from people treating him like he is unstable or moody or like he is unpredictable and out of control. I want to protect him from people thinking that he makes life hard for me. I want to protect him from Bipolar. But mostly, I want to protect him from being robbed of himself.

The thing is, Zachary is not Bipolar. He has Bipolar. Just like he has size 10.5 feet and a smile that makes his eyes get all squinty. It is part of him, but it is not all of him. Zachary is a dad. He’s a husband. He’s an amazing cook. He’s a musician, a best friend, a mediocre Scrabble player, a self-proclaimed author (of a book that I haven’t read very much of because he is not a grammarian.) He is so much more than a diagnosis. Sometimes life can be complicated because of Zachary’s diagnosis. Most of the time Bipolar is just there and we work around it. Sometimes we actually even enjoy it… (I know that seems so weird to say. I’ll post more on mania another time.) Bipolar is something that we have to deal with so we do. I’m not afraid of it. Sometimes it makes life difficult for sure, but mostly, it’s just part of the Zachary that I’ve always known and loved. There is so much more to him than episodes of depression and phases of mania. Wherever he is in the cycle of Bipolar, it’s an adventure. It’s our life, and I am ok with it.

 

 

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Mom Guilt

I have been suffering from mom guilt since the day I found out I was pregnant. True story. I always find something to feel bad about or something that I should be better about doing (tummy time, reading, vegetable eating, there are SO many things) but the biggest source of guilt is that I work. I don’t choose to work for the sake of a career, but do it out of necessity and will continue to until my husband finishes his nursing degree. I can see a lot of ways in which working outside of the home is a good thing for me personally, but it kills me at the same time. Every “mommy no works today?” and “don’t leave me!” breaks my heart. I feel guilty for all the hours that I have missed with my daughter because I was at work. I feel guilty that when I come home from work, I have a list of things that I need to do and am not always able to just jump into play time. I feel guilty that sometimes I am so worn out from working and keeping up with the rest of life that we watch TV instead of going to the park or doing crafts. I wish things were different, but they aren’t.

I was recently talking to one of my grandparents about how they were raised. They were talking about how much their parents didn’t do “right” but that they firmly believed that their parents did the best that they could and that they grew up being loved. That has become my new goal. Instead of putting pressure on myself to always be fun and present and full of clever Pinterest worthy activities, my goal is to do my best and for my child to be loved. Sometimes my best is pretend play and educational activities and other times it’s yogurt for dinner and Netflix until bedtime. Right now my best is working because that’s what it takes to meet my family’s needs.

It has taken a lot for me to be okay with where we are at in life right now. I know it’s not forever, and I know that when we get into the next phase of life, there will be different and new challenges. I know that I have, and will always have, short comings as a mom, but I don’t want to waste any of the moments that I do have thinking about how I could be better and feeling guilty for what I can’t do. If I have nothing else (engery, good ideas, endless patience, etc.) at lease I have love. So much love. That is my best, and it is good enough.

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How Being a Mom Has Changed Me

I used to be fun. Not in a party hard, make bad choices kind of way, but in a spontaneous kind of way. If Zachary wanted to just get in the car and drive until we found something worth stopping for, I’d go with it. I’d happily go to the beach at midnight just to look at the moon or pull an all-nighter binge watching scary movies. I’d willingly agree to weekend getaways or sneaking around late at night to play pranks. I used to love adventures… and then I became a mom.

I feel like every choice that I make now is made after lengthy consideration of things such as potty stops, sleep schedules, teething, food options, outside temperature, what items need to be packed, what kind of mood everyone is in and on and on. I think twice about how late I stay up because it’s pretty much a guarantee that if  I stay up all night by choice, the next night I’ll be up all night with a sick child and I won’t be able to function. I think better of seemingly harmless pranks because I have a little person watching me and how do you explain that sometimes it’s OK to throw eggs and sometimes it’s not? I’m responsible. I feel like the big fat fun sucker that I used to accuse my own mom of being. I know Zachary misses the spontaneous version of me. He’s told me that it was one of the things he liked most about me when he met me. I liked it about myself too.

But now I am something else. I am safe. I am consistent. I am prepared. It’s not the same and arguably not as fun, but it allows my daughter to have fun. It allows her to live her life without worrying about potty stops, what she will eat, when she can sleep, or who will take care of her if she wakes up sick in the night. She doesn’t have to struggle to figure out when certain behaviors are acceptable and when they aren’t based on how she sees me behave. She’s safe. She knows what to expect. She knows that I have her back and that she is free to be little. And watching her be little is the greatest adventure I’ve ever been on.

 

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Here goes nothing… Or something

Every so often, for the past several years, the topic of blogging has come up. My husband and  I talk about it, he tells me why I should do it, and I talk myself out of it for one reason or another. A big con that I always come back to is privacy. I work in social services and while the majority of the people I work with on a daily basis are pleasant, non-creepy people, there are still a number of less desirable people that I really don’t want Googling me and coming up with a photo of my daughter attached to the details of our most recent family adventure. I know that seems paranoid, but it only takes one perpetrator following you across the county to make you think twice about what kind of life details you are making available to the world. I’ve come up with a few ways around this though… More on that some other time.

So, here goes my attempt at following through with something that may not be as good of an idea as my husband thinks it is. Stay tuned for future posts about life as a working toddler mom who likes to bake stuff and is married to the dreamiest, (and hairiest) guy who also happens to have Bipolar… Lots to come on that last part later.