The Fear of a Single Word

It’s been a little over a week since Josiah and I announced that we were expecting a baby at the end of September. For the past couple of months, my emotions about pregnancy have been mixed. On the one hand, I’m thrilled to see us become parents. I have a nervous excitement about the opportunity to raise a human with all the qualities that Josiah and I treasure so much.

I’m also scared. This was a total surprise for us. We had planned to really start talking about starting a family after Josiah’s first round of deployments. I selfishly wanted more solo time to get used to having my life partner gone and unavailable to talk for months at a time. I wanted to feel as mentally healthy as possible before adding anything else to our life.

And then last week happened. Last week, I got the official bipolar diagnosis. Bipolar. An intimidating word to be tied to any person, but for someone who is stepping into motherhood for the first time in six months, I’ve been terrified.

Suspicions of this diagnosis first popped up in early 2013, but the therapist I was seeing decided I was struggling with ptsd and major depressive disorder. Bipolar isn’t something that doctors and therapists like to easily diagnose because it can be a word that haunts someone for the rest of their life. But my symptoms have worsened in those four years. Untreated, they’ve started to affect more and more of my life. My depressive cycles have gotten harder to battle through, and my hypomania has left me wondering what kind of person I really am on multiple occasions.

So I’ve started medication. I’ve begun keeping a more dedicated record of my emotions. I have doctors that are helping to monitor my brain and the warning signs I might not think are important. But the fear is lingering. The fear that I won’t be able to be the kind of mother I really want to be because of my mental struggles. The worry that I’ll go through episodes while Josiah is out of the country and I’m the temporary sole caregiver of our child. The very real reality that our children will grow up knowing that sometimes their mother won’t be able to be as mentally present as they need me to be.

I know that both Josiah and I are blessed with families that would do absolutely everything they can to help us be the best parents we can be. Being willing and able to ask for that help is a constant battle for me. There are so many parenting stories I’ve been reading about mothers who struggle with postpartum depression, anxiety, and various other mental conditions. However, I don’t see many moms who struggle with bipolar. I don’t hear many successful parenting stories where a parent with bipolar was still able to provide their children with a healthy, loving, and positive environment. Part of me hopes that I’ll be able to start writing that kind of life story for our new family. Mental health is such a touchy writing subject because it makes so many people uncomfortable, and one of my goals with this blog has always been to change that stigma. But writing about it doesn’t make the fear any less real.

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Eiffel Tower, Paris, France- July 2014
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It Takes Time

I had a panic attack earlier this week.

It’s been almost a year and a half since my last serious moment. It came out of nowhere. I was hugged far too tightly by someone who was not welcome to touch me, and I panicked. It started off as something I thought I could work through….shaking hands, a slight shortness of breath. It didn’t slow down. It didn’t get better. It got worse. Shaking hands turned to full body paralyzation. Shortness of breath turned into the inability to see or breathe or speak in coherent words. I lost track of time. It was terrifying.

I was in a public place. I was at my job. I was in possibly one of the worst places to totally shut down because I’ve kept most of my history separate from my work environment. I was lucky enough to have one friend there who I’ve known for over a decade who knows all of my past and was able to drive me home and make sure I had moved past the worst of it, but it was impossible for most of my colleagues to know why I was just leaving work in the middle of a shift.

That’s the thing about having ptsd. That’s a factor that I’ve dismissed since it’s been so long since my last crippling episode. It can come back at any time. Triggers can’t be controlled. You can try to avoid situations where thoughts and feelings come rushing back, but that isn’t a hundred percent guarantee that you’re the person before the event or events that caused your trauma.

I think one of the worst parts to me is how embarrassed I feel. There’s a sense of shame and humiliation that comes with completely shutting down in front of a bunch of people that you’ve only known for a few months. It shouldn’t be that way, but unfortunately most people don’t understand the feeling that every molecule of oxygen is being squeezed from your lungs, that you have to clench your fists so tightly that nails cut skin just to keep your mind somewhat in the present. That became clear to me when I was told that I “just have to get over my past and move on”.

Some traumas are impossible to get over. There’s healing that will happen and the fear or hurt may subside, but it doesn’t just magically go away. You can’t just snap your fingers and become instantly mentally or emotionally healthy again. It doesn’t work like that. I wish it did. I wish there was an instant fix to make all of the bad feelings disappear. But it does not work like that, and unless you’ve dealt with trauma in your life, it’s virtually impossible to understand that fact. It’s a slow process and there are setbacks, as I’ve recently experienced, but the healing does come. Days get brighter and breaths come easier. It’s just important to remember that it takes time.

Alaska - August 2014
Alaska – August 2014