This has not been my first day #1. It won’t be my last.

Yesterday I got slapped in the face with a real “grow the fuck up” moment. I knew going into my therapy appointment that my own quarantine habits were not helping my mental health, but damn did she lay it out for me.

Last week I snuggled in and watched movies all day. Sometimes with the kids, sometimes binging Tiger King by myself. I took a lot of naps when I could, and encouraged the kids to do quiet, indoor play on their own. I trusted that Jacen was keeping up with his Google Classroom work on his own, and didn’t intervene.

At the end of the week (Friday night) I had the biggest panic attack I’ve had in years. I couldn’t breathe, speak or stop throwing up. All coping mechanisms went out the window, I even failed to take my rescue medication. I felt like I was under rock bottom. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried on the floor by myself. The dark thoughts spiraled and they just wouldn’t stop. 

‘Things with Arielle seem weird today, does she love me less?’ ‘Jacen isn’t putting enough effort into his studies and it’s my fault.’ ‘Anna is so wild, is it my fault? Am I not doing a good enough job teaching her to be a lady?’ ‘Are we watching too much tv?’ ‘Those clean clothes have been waiting to get put away forever.’ ‘The weight is getting out of control, will I ever work out again?’ ‘You’re not contributing financially.’ ‘Your mental health is a burden on the family.’ ‘you are not good enough.’ ‘you don’t contribute anything.’ ‘you are worthless.’

The tears wouldn’t stop, and I couldn’t quiet the voices in my head that were just tearing me apart. On paper I can tell you that the best things for good mental health are routine, movement, socialization, getting outdoors, organization, etc. My body just did not want to participate. I didn’t have the energy or motivation. I slept as late as I could every morning, watched tv on the couch or in bed, took an afternoon nap, and looked forward to an early bedtime. The guilt started to mound while I just ignored the healthy me inside that was screaming “Get up! Get better! You can do this!”

But no, I wasted an entire week.

Monday morning I started to whine to my therapist, but she stopped me. She was right to do so. She reminded me that antidepressants are only going to do so much, and the rest is on me. That’s partly therapy- putting in the hard work of CBT, EMDR and talk therapy. It’s also the everyday stuff- getting out of bed, taking a shower, being active, getting work done. Okay, okay. I knew this already, I was just being lazy.

Today was my new day #1. I set my alarm, and got out of bed for 9. We got through our morning and breakfast routine. Jacen and I sat at side by side desks so I could be involved with his school work. I sat down to write this. I made a schedule. Even if we don’t do every single thing on the schedule every day, or even if we don’t do them at the same time everyday, it’s at least an announcement of what our expectations should be. It’s how we are going to get motivated and stay organized. It’s going to get the whole family back on track, and I’ll be the one leading the pack. I’m excited to pull myself out of this depression, even if it still feels really, really hard at this exact moment. (I’m dying to go back to sleep! Mama wants a nap!)

So, let’s lay it out. What work do I need to put in to get back on my feet? The first thing I usually do is reference my ‘overall family wellness goals.’

My Family Wellness Goals:

  1. Physical
  2. Emotional
  3. intellectual/mental
  4. Social
  5. Spiritual
  6. Vocational/educational
  7. Environmental
  8. Financial

Right in order, I’ve neglected my physical goals by relying heavily on processed “easy” food (due to my laziness for cooking) and skipping working out. Emotionally I have decided to wallow in my depression instead of taking time to resolve my problems. I have neglected to read, learn or grow my mind. Instead I have rotted it via Netflix. I leave Facebook messages on “received,” ignore calls, and avoid opening texts. I let myself use the “social distancing” excuse to isolate myself in every way. I have not connected spiritually as I prefer to. I have not been outdoors or seen the sun in weeks. I want to blame the quarantine, but there is no restriction to being outside as long as we still practice 6 foot distancing. Thankfully I haven’t messed up too much financially. I always feel guilty that I do not provide like Mike does, but I’m also not stupidly spending it either. I’m going to call that a point in my favor.

Simply jotting down a loose schedule has already solved so many of these problems for me. By blocking out time to cook meals, I know I will be preparing something healthy instead of microwaving something packaged at the last minute. I have time where I am expecting myself to workout, to read or listen to podcasts, to be outdoors with the kids, and to overall interact with my family more. It’s amazing that just writing these things down sparks a fire of motivation inside of me. I decided to change out of my loose, dirty sweatpants and into some workout leggings. I threw some dry shampoo in my hair, and even took out some meat to thaw for dinner. 

This has not been my first day #1. It won’t be my last. Everyone goes through the cycle to some degree of fluctuating between moods, motivation and success. We can not always control the organic sources, so we have to take control of what we can change. The first being our outlook. Don’t wait for a new week, or the next Monday. Don’t wait for the first of the month. Don’t wait for another day. Don’t even wait an hour. Do it now. Think of one thing that could make tomorrow easier. Implement it today, and watch your mood lift. Trust me I’m right there with you, but I have faith we can all climb out of this darkness with effort, help, and a desire to be healthy again.

Cheering for you,

And listening for your cheers to me.

Kate.

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I could hear the chuckle in his voice when he yelled from the bedroom “let me find some pants.”

My family doesn’t usually serve alcohol at holidays or gatherings. When I turned 21 I thought it would be fun to bring sangria to Thanksgiving. It made me feel grown up, and I liked the thought of bringing something that had never been served before. I had a friend in high school who made sangria all the time. She had told me once that it was crucial to give the fruit a few days to soak in the wine. I put in about a week’s worth of work between researching recipes, shopping, and preparing. The night before the big day, I sampled the wine. It was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of my pot-luck contribution. 

The recipe I used made A LOT more wine than I’d anticipated. I had stored it in a couple of plastic tupperware pitchers, but decided they didn’t look nice enough to bring to a family holiday. I had just started dating this guy who worked at Walmart. (9 years later, we are still together, married, and four kids between us!) He was heading to my apartment when his shift ended, so I asked him to pick up the biggest pitcher he could find. 

The thing was beautiful, and huge. It looked like a giant glass wine barrel, with a fancy spigot to dispense. It was absolutely perfect, especially for a wine I was so proud of. 

Mike jumped into the shower, and I focused on my wine project.. It took a bit of time to transfer all of my little plastic pitchers from the fridge into this mega barrel, and I pressed the fruit artfully against the glass. Everything was perfect.

I heard Mike shut off the water in the shower, and decided I had spent enough time on such a simple project. I grabbed the pitcher and brought it over to the fridge. How in the world did I overlook how heavy this thing would be? The pitcher itself had some serious weight to it, being so big and made of glass, and I had filled it with a massive amount of wine. Wine that had been in my refrigerator. Cold wine.Cold wine in a very heavy, glass pitcher. Cold wine that had started to accumulate condensation on the outside of the glass. I was really wishing I had thought to prop the fridge door open before picking this thing up. 

You know where this is going.

As if in slow motion, the pitcher slipped from my hands. The bathroom door squeaked open, and Mike caught the last split second before the wine hit the ground. Together we watched my kitchen disappear behind an atomic bomb of sangria. I froze. What the hell just happened? Is this real life? I looked at Mike, who just dropped his head to his chest and laughed. Still gripping a towel around his waist, he shook his head, and walked away smiling. I could hear the chuckle in his voice when he yelled from the bedroom “let me find some pants.”

Mike emerged from the bedroom to find me standing in two inches of red wine. I pushed a mop back and forth, not really doing anything but spreading around the puddle and shards of glass. I looked up and met his gaze with tears in my eyes and said, “I didn’t know where to start.” As if on cue, sangria dripped from the ceiling and onto my face. I couldn’t hold back anymore. The dam broke, and the tears came flowing out. 

Mike walked up to me, wrapped his hands around my upper arms and made me look him in the eye. “I got this,” he said with a smile. He kissed me on the forehead, and pulled the mop from my hand. 

That was the moment, right there when he looked me in the eye. That was the moment I fell in love with my husband.

I thought of this today, and it made me smile. I hope you’ve found a smile-thought today, too. 

Kate.

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Pandemic Panic and Mental Illness

Keeping a consistent routine is one of the basic and most useful therapies in managing bipolar disorder. Obviously COVID-19 has not made that easy. I haven’t been getting out of the house with the younger girls, we’ve been adjusting to “distance learning” for Jacen, and our custody schedule for Arielle has been all kinds of stressful. When I lost our routine, it felt like someone pulled a Jenga block from the bottom of my emotional stack: everything is pretty wobbly, I’m praying I don’t get knocked down, and I’m definitely fearful of what will  be taken from me next. 

My OCD is running high. I’m checking the stove burners and the locks on the door several times an hour.  My husband tries to make light of it by saying things like “Kate, you’re getting your steps in today” and mockingly “wait, have you checked to see if the door is locked?” It’s really embarrassing to be aware of a strange habit but not be able to stop yourself.

By far the absolute worst part of staying home has been my anxiety. I feel completely out of control- crying spells, massive panic attacks, vomiting, restlessness, irritability. All of it. All the time.

I try to remind myself that this time is actually a gift. This is more time with the kids, and at the end of my life I know that more time with them is all I’ll be wishing I had more of. There’s just a huge difference between receiving a gift and enjoying it.

I want them to remember this time as calm, safe, and loving. I want them to remember how strong mom was when the world was scary. I want them to remember fun things we did together, and things they learned at home that they wouldn’t have been taught in school. I want to enjoy this time. I fear they will remember me crying myself dry, anxiously vomiting, pacing, and worrying. I fear I won’t be remembered as the super mom that I always aspire to be, but a weak woman who fell apart in crisis. I fear the memories we make during this time will show me as overwhelmed, anxious, confused and stressed.. And all of these fears end up feeding my anxiety, making me fear even more. It’s an endless cycle. 

In both my OCD and my anxiety, I’m aware that my actions are unnecessary, but I’m unable to stop myself. I have to touch the door knob. I can’t just remind myself it’s locked and walk away. I’m aware that I appear preoccupied and unapproachable when I’m sobbing and stressing, but I just can’t stop it, no matter how much I would rather be laughing with my kids. I just want to stop. I want to change things. I want to enjoy the gift of time with my children.

This pandemic has been hard on everyone. We miss socialization. We fear for our businesses, our finances. We fear for the education of our children. We miss our family in healthcare, first responders, front liners, and essential employees whom we have not seen nearly enough of lately. We stress about getting sick, or getting someone else sick who can’t fight the virus. We fear of going without; of running out of food, soap and toilet paper. There is so much fear and sadness in the world. 

I know there has to be a way to turn this around. I’m fighting every day, trying to claw my way out of the hole I’ve dug myself into. I’m still seeing my doctors via Telehealth. I take my meds. I think of the kids. I think my next small step needs to be carving out a new routine. I do better when I know what to expect next, no surprises. No stress or guilt at the end of the day due to forgotten tasks. Organization.

I know I’m not the only one scared. I’m sure you are, too; to some degree, and in some regard. The world is a crazy place right now. I’m going to start small and get into a daily routine, because I deserve to feel better than I do right now. And so do you. No matter your reason, diagnosis or situation you can feel better. What’s your next step? Think about it. Tomorrow is a new day, and a perfect day to start turning things around.

Kate.

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Learning by Example

The coronavirus has my family staying home, and we are getting a little cabin fever. Yesterday we decided to move furniture to mix things up. It also made disinfecting the kids’ toys so much easier!

At one point, we had Anna’s toy buckets stacked up and drying. I bumped the pile, knocking it over and she immediately lunged for the fallen buckets. “It’s okay! It’s fine, mama! It happens!” She quickly squirreled around and collected them to restack. I was in awe for a moment. She, at two years old, had comforted me, her thirty year old mother. I wondered when she got so smart, when she became so kind and thoughtful, and how she learned how to comfort others.

I replayed her words in my head. “It’s okay. It’s fine. It happens.” Why did that sound so familiar? Oh, right. I laughed out loud at my slow realization. Those are the things I tell her when she makes mistakes. If she falls down, I try not to make a big deal of it and just say “you’re okay!” Usually this results in laughter and going back to playing instead of crying over the fall. When she spills things, I say “It’s fine. Accidents happen!”

These are phrases I use every single day, usually in times when she is upset that she has embarrassed herself, gotten a minor injury, or thinks she may get in trouble. I say them to make her feel better, so she knows things like this happen to everyone, and we have to stay calm and keep moving on. My hope is that these phrases will help her to later mentally compartmentalize accidents as ‘no big deal’ so she can focus on making them right and moving on. 

I am most impressed that Anna not only remembered these words in a moment of minor crisis, but was able to apply them with the intent to comfort me. It got me thinking of a Facebook meme I’ve seen going around lately- it reads something like ‘your children will barely remember the virus. They will remember how you reacted to it. Will you react in panic and chaos, or calm?’ 

Anna’s reaction to the buckets falling over was my “Ah-ha” moment, and those words on the meme finally clicked in my brain. I don’t want to be the mom who panics, or makes it sound like we will immediately die if we leave the house. I don’t want to be the selfish mom, the hoarding mom. I don’t want to be the yelling, mad mom.

I want to be the mom who checks on family and neighbors. I want to be the mom sending care packages to those who need it. I want to be the mom who is rational. I want to wash my hands, stay home, and not touch my face. I want to be the mom who follows the rules during a pandemic. I want to be the calm mom, the one who sometimes gets anxious but fights through it with grounding exercises, yoga, meditation and mindfulness. I want to be the mom who talks about my feelings, and listens to others talk about theirs. I want to be the mom who comes out on the other side of this pandemic with children who remember this time at home as positive.

If Anna can learn that “it’s okay, it’s fine” just from watching me respond to accidents, I know my kids can learn how to survive this time in a positive way. All I have to do is set a good example. If it sounds silly, I would have agreed with you a few days ago.( My corona plan at the time was just to survive.) It’s different now. The kids are always watching us. They learn more from our body language and facial expressions than anything else. My two year old learned to comfort mistakes just by hearing me do it. Now she will learn how to respond during a pandemic by watching me, and you bet your ass I’m going to set the best example I can.

In this time of craziness stay strong.

Stay healthy.

Stay home.

Kate and the Kids.

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