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Winner

Yesterday, I had lunch with my cousin who reminded me of one of my favorite sayings about dysfunction.

She spoke my thoughts exactly saying, “It can’t just be everybody else’s problem, right?”

Well, yes.  Right.

Our discussion was about mental health.  Or, to be more specific, mental illness.  We talked about depression, addiction and bi-polar disorder, each having affected someone we know.  Each a dark, personal fear.

Depresson seems to be the disease du jour if you pay attention to advertising.  Within four types of medications for depression, there are no fewer than twenty-six brand names.  It would seems that depression pays.  I’m still waiting for my check.

Post-partum depression was my most recent dance with the devil.

It pounded me like nothing ever has before and I’m no stranger to the dark side.  I was six months into the pit of despair before I could even ask for help.  There were signs, of course, but between new-mum hormones and my self-imposed isolation, who was to catch them?  It was finally my husband who mandated that I get help.  It took more than a year for me to get better and drugs definitely helped me on my path to recovery.

Have you seen the commercials for Bring Change 2 Mind?  Glenn Close is the spokesperson for the organization advocating against the stigma, misconceptions, and bias surrounding mental illness.  I cry everytime I see it

The site says that 1 in 6 adults are living with a diagnosable mental illness.  Actually “suffering” is the word they use, and the difference is not semantics.  I don’t know their methodology for that statistic but it stuns me. 

How many of these people go undiagnosed for their entire lives?  And what are the ramifications of that?

Therapy seems like a great idea on paper.  In practice, however, it feels like a money pit.  Out-of-pocket expenses and unending treatment plans are daunting at best, prohibitive at worst.

I can remember when I was an adolescent, my parents took me to a few different shrinks to find out what was “wrong” with me.  I would venture that I was suffering from “teenager” but my perspective is skewed.  When I refused medication for my real or imagined malady, my parents expressed their pride in my decision. 

This seems odd to me now that I know depression is  not indicative of weakness – mental, physical, or spiritual.

Perhaps “Mental” illness needs a rebranding effort. 

Would “Chemical Illness” be less difficult to say?  That sounds like radiation sickness to me.  What about “Hormonal Illness”?  That could be confused with menopause.

What about the word “Illness?”  Diabetics don’t make enough insulin but get to use “deficiency” to describe their body’s betrayal.  Why can’t I have just been diagnosed with a “Seratonin Deficiency?”

My aunt, who has spent her career in nursing and hospital administration, pondered aloud why psychological care wasn’t treated like dental care?  Everyone should receive preventative/restorative treatment every six months – whether you need it or not.

Can you imagine the cavities that could be filled?

The definition of insanity, according to Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.  So the dysfunction definition, while funny in a cynical way, alludes to an inability to self-assess, an ignorance of culpability, a blindness to our own responsibility for our happiness, or lack thereof.

Whether the decay is of the mind or of the spirit, Billie Holiday had a beautiful suggestion:  “Be kinder than necessary.  Everyone is fighting some kind of battle.”

May you win yours.

SAHD (does not equal) SAD

(This was originally posted on www.STLFamilyLife.com on July 12, 2010)

As we pack up the house to head back to Chicago, I am bracing for how different our home will be.  We are a new family; we married in 2007 and had the bub in 2008.  Every year of our lives together has been rife with change and adventure.  This past one was no different. 

My hub was a Stay-At-Home-Dad in Chicago.  And although he ran his own business here in St. Louis, he still took responsibility for our daughter two or three days a week when I worked.  He loves it.  I’ve never met a more nurturing man in my life. The truth is that he is a gifted father.  He has a patience and an attention to detail that has given the bub a blanket of comfort and a safety net of consistency. 

It just makes me love him more.

I consider us progressive, evolved, and trend-setting, even.  SAHDs aren’t common.  But here in tha Lou,  many folks have barely hidden their disdain for the concept.  It makes me sad for my husband to be disrespected like that but it also makes me ashamed.  Before I had my daughter, I had those same exact feelings about Stay-At-Home-Moms.

Long is the battle between moms who work outside  v. those who work at home.  Before I had even earned the right to have an opinion, I had relegated women who chose to stay at home as traitors to the feminist manifesto.  I wondered (too often aloud) how they could live with themselves for not pulling their own weight, earning their own scratch, exercising their minds and ambition.  I wondered these things about my FRIENDS… about my FAMILY! I’m disgusted with myself.  Please accept my mea culpa.  I was an idiot who didn’t know any better.

Becoming a mom changes everything.  It’s cellular.  You are no longer the same as you were.  You can still pull out your previous self for special appearances but she is no longer a familiar skin, in a good way.  Kelly Corrigan describes it beautifully in The Middle Place, “In fact, once you become a mother, being a wife seems like a game you once played or a self-help book you were overly impressed with as a teenager that on second reading is puffy with common ideas.”

Why then, is it surprising for a man to feel that way?

The truth is, as much as it complicates our double-income aspirations, that being with a parent is the greatest thing a kid could hope for.  Raising your own child full-time is a privilege that seems available only to those willing to live on little or those who make an extraordinary amount of money. 

After attempting it myself during periods of unemployment over the last two years, I can tell you first-hand that it also requires a skill-set that not everyone possesses.  I think I am a good mother.  I am firm but loving.  I teach; I play; I cuddle/sing/dance/cook/wrestle/read/build/splash/protect.  But Daddy does all those things too.  And he doesn’t shout or need a drink at naptime. 

So what’s a mama to do?

Well, this  Mama went back to work.  In economics, it’s called comparative advantageIn our house, it’s called harmony.   

When we return to Chicago, Daddy will most likely go back to work outside the home.  Bub has thrived in the montessori-like environment of her super-awesome-we-love-them-so-much school here.  We are both confident that she is gaining more stimulation, diversity, and socialization in that environment than we can provide at home.

It will certainly be different for hub and bub not to be at home together every day.

And I think that makes us all a little sad.

(Although not all SAHDs – there are some great dads who blogs @Dadcentric/dadbloggers.)