Saturday, June 22, 2013

Dispatch From the Mad Motherhood Front

June 22, 2013

The pain is complex. This time has afforded me the opportunity to analyze the pain--every dark recess of it, every blindingly searing and burning light of it. The throbbing of my heartbeat in my head, the aching burning in my stomach, the stabbing gripping pain in my uterus and vagina, the ripping pain in my breasts, the searing stabbing vice-like smashing pain in my spine, the aching in my joints.

Every day it is something new, and something old. Every day I am attempting to focus on the good and not allow the pain to overtake me. Nothing good would come of that, because I would lose the last semblance of sanity I have left. I need that sliver of sanity for my daughter, who is not quite seven weeks old. I hold it together long enough to take care of her, only to lose my mind and break down crying and sometimes screaming in the other room. I have never known such a level of anxiety as I have felt since her birth, and I have a lifetime of anxiety under my belt.

Everything that happens I quickly determine if it will affect her in a potentially harmful way. As the world works, most things end up in that "potentially harmful" box. I want to prevent harm from befalling her, so I try my damnedest to prevent, stop, and lessen whatever the catalyst was. This turns me into the most critical person I've ever been in my 27 years. 

Being a mad mother is probably the most difficult role I will ever have to fill. I have to combat a lifetime of traumas so that they don't end up affecting her in a negative or traumatic way. I have to deal with the "normal" anxieties of parenthood when all I have ever known of anxiety has been crippling and debilitating.  I have to reel in my fears, thoughts, and reactions so as not to inadvertently hurt her or my partner in the process. Daily I have to use so much willpower just to be alive that it hurts. 

I've hallucinated from lack of sleep, leading me to wonder if it is something inherent in me or if it really is just the sleep. I question whether I should tell my psychiatrist, who, due to a couple bad decisions in practice on their part, has gained my distrust. I see them within a nonprofit organization for the homeless, at risk of being homeless, and uninsured. For awhile I fell in the last two categories. I have never before seen such conveyor belt-like psychiatry before being privy to this particular practice. 20-25 people smash together in a small waiting room after checking in at the front desk. You're given an "appointment time" that's merely arbitrary: people are seen in the order in which they arrive. One-by-one, people are called back to a small office and emerge 10 minutes later with their prescriptions in hand. It always takes hours to go to these appointments. With a newborn, these appointments are impossible. 

As someone who appreciates a *positive and seemingly genuine* therapeutic interaction, this setup made me uneasy from the beginning. My unease was confirmed in the first appointment, when the doctor attempted to diagnose me with the "kiss of death" personality disorder after asking me a handful of vague questions that any Millennial would have experienced at some point in their lives. That coupled with putting me back on a medication I had been on before without tapering me onto it (which can be fatal) has resulted in my complete distrust in the process, at least with this doctor in this practice. 

How could I trust that any medication they suggest would be safe for breastfeeding? I can't even trust them to acknowledge and treat what is really wrong, not what they want to see instead. So, I've avoided going back. I've tried self medicating with chamomile tea but it is no longer adequate. The anxiety is too strong... it has turned into its own living, breathing organism that feeds off of everything around it. 

To know that there is something/someone that relies on me so much that it would die without my assistance frightens me. At least pets are able to get into the trash or cabinets to their food stash to eat if you were absent-minded. A baby though...a baby is totally helpless. And everything that you do or don't do affects their development. Don't talk to them or cuddle them enough and they can have developmental issues that you would only know about after the damage from neglect was already done. And how am I to know what is "enough"? I've only had pets to care for before now. This is a human being that is going to learn words, become an adult that may try to change the world, may or may not have children of her own to mold, and can manipulate her environment in ways that pets cannot. I am tasked with the huge responsibility of caring for this tiny human when on most days I am unsure how to adequately care for myself.

Now, even how I care for myself can affect her development, as I am breastfeeding. Never before has my health been so crucial, and never before have I been so ill. I have been constantly sick since before she was born. From preeclampsia that required early delivery and an extended hospital stay to a uterine infection from the surgery to a full body infection brought on by antibiotics and a compromised immune system, I do not yet know what it is like to be well and be a mother. I hope that I will be lucky enough to see that day sometime in the future, someday.

Since her birth I feel like I have become more mad, more intense, but in a hyper-rational way. Before, my madness was based in a reality in the past-- a reality where I was destroyed again and again by trauma. I would often find myself in irrational arguments with my partners or even myself, based on my reaction to what had happened to me before, not what was right in front of me. Now though, I deal with that on occasion, but more frequently deal with the hyper rationality that is an anxiety-prone mother caring for their child. Such rationality only exists in the future tense, where what is happening now may be and most certainly can be detrimental in the future.

My irrationalities exist in the past tense, where they have already been detrimental and tore me down before, and keep coming up again and again through flashbacks. But it's always about what happened before, never really connected to the reality of right now.

My brain focuses on what ifs and what was, not what is. I have a hard time existing in now. The times I can feel so simple, so pure. Those times are when I'm the happiest. I've had a few of those times since her birth. One involved a huge smile spreading across my face as I watched out my front door at a thunderstorm. The rain came pouring down in diagonal sheets that later flooded our backyard with puddles that, were they not filled with mud, I would have jumped in. It was in that moment that everything that happened to me before and everything that might happen in the future no longer existed. All that existed was now: me standing in the doorway, looking out at the streets of Richmond as cars drove by with rain pouring down on everything. In that moment, I was the teenager across the street, I was the driver in the passing car, I was the biker trying to get home, I was the mother standing in the doorway. In that moment I was home. In that moment I was free. 

I hope I can teach my daughter that no matter what happens, we can find this freedom regardless of how trapped we feel. I hope that I can teach her that it's perfectly okay to feel scared and helpless well into adulthood, and that it's okay to hold onto that childlike wonder where the rain washes everything away...

M Osborn is a radical mental health activist, artist, and writer located in Richmond, VA. Founder of Dispatches From the Mad Parenthood Front, Mindful Liberation Project, FOIA For Change, the RVA Peer Support Line, and /r/radicalmentalhealth, and co-founder of RVA Peer Support and Something Something PressAuthor of Coping Skills and Trigger Warning, and co-author of Mindful Occupation: Rising Up Without Burning OutM also helps moderate several mental health-related blogs, including Life After Eating Disorders, A Space of Safety, and Your Mental Health First Aid KitThey can usually be found musing about the world at their personal blog and filling spaces with artand can be contacted at megan[at]mindfulliberation[dot]org

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