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Mental Health

Guest Posts, Mental Health, No Bullshit Motherhood

But, What If…?: Confessions of an Anxious Mother

April 4, 2018
anxious

By Catherine Jones

I suffer from anxiety, which is debilitating at times.  I have suffered for as long as I can remember, both mentally and physically.  And while I’ve tried many methods that help to alleviate my symptoms, I know my anxiety will never completely go away.  It only got much worse after my child was born.  I had a lot of time during my maternity leave to come up with some truly unreasonable, completely invalid fears.  One of my biggest issues with anxiety is that I know I’m being silly, but I can’t help it.  I know there’s no reason to be afraid to ask for help finding an item at the grocery store and there’s definitely no reason to contemplate all the awful things that may happen to my child.  I hope some anxious mothers out there can relate, or at least be relieved that they’re not nearly as imaginative (cuckoo) as me.

When my son was first born, he hardly slept, or if he did it was for maybe an hour at a time.  He was always hungry and wanted to be nursed for hours and then be nursed again after a short catnap.  He never seemed particularly tired, but I was getting loopy from a lack of sleep.  When he did manage to sleep at night for a few hours at a time, I kept getting up to check on him, straining my eyes in the darkness to make sure his little chest was still rising and falling.  When he switched to formula and actually started to sleep through the night, I was terrified.  Why was he sleeping so much?  Was something wrong?  Infants are supposed to sleep for most of the day, but not my baby!  I slept on a cot in his room for months. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

Promises and Lies

March 7, 2018
manuals

CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting CONNECT to 74174. The world needs you.

By Jen Soong

In a cramped motel room, I stared silently into the dark, lying still as a corpse. Until recently, I had been studying at a prestigious university, my future beckoning brightly. My father kept vigil over me, still his little girl. The distance separating us — a few feet, at most — felt like an unbridgeable gulf.

Jen-ni-fer, he said, his once-steady voice cracking as he broke the silence. Promise me you’ll never try that again.

I promise, I lied softly, knowing those were the words he needed to hear. Lying proved to be easier than living. No, I’m not having any thoughts of harming myself. I lied to the clinician to gain my release from the locked hospital ward after my dad arrived. Yes, I will seek help if I have those thoughts again.

The next day, I repeated those lies to a disinterested psychiatrist in a drab beige office, tuning out his line of inquiry about my ethnicity. A verbal no-harm agreement. Like a security blanket, it generally works only if the child tucked underneath believes it. Let’s play pretend. I knew my lines to deliver, even if they weren’t completely honest.

I took too many sleeping pills. Truth is a slippery slope. I just wanted to sleep. If I never spoke the words out loud—that I was tired of living—was I technically lying? If the bitter truth, a suicide attempt, is never examined in the light of day, then it can stay buried in the past, like the ghosts of my ancestors.

We don’t talk about these things.

Earlier that day, my dad questioned why I had run away when I was a kid, a time I could still cry out for help. He was desperate to connect the dots and reach a logical conclusion. My father, armed with a PhD in electrical engineering, will read a manual from beginning to end before attempting to fiddle with anything.

Daughters don’t come with manuals. My dad was my protector; once he scolded the boy who crashed a bike that caused my skinned knees. Dirt and tears, these could be wiped away with his pocket handkerchief. Protecting me from myself was not a formula he could solve.

Depression runs in my family. My dad’s mother committed suicide when she was 59. The last time he saw her alive was 1956, before he boarded a freight ship from Taiwan to study in America. Thirteen years later, he flew back to his homeland for her funeral. After the service, he learned she killed herself. His sister had discovered her body in the bathroom along with a suicide note.

We don’t talk about these things.

Late at night during family gatherings when I was still young, adults whispered in hushed tones in the kitchen, usually with fruit — likely oranges or Asian pears — peels and peanut shells littered on paper plates at the table. The secrets swirled in the air, sucking the oxygen out of the room. When I entered, my body immediately tensed, torn between wanting to know and needing to escape.

Often, I would descend into the basement to play mah-jong with my cousins, shuffling tiles and competing for red and blue poker chips, never revealing what lay behind our tile walls. It was easier to hide our hurts, mask our missteps, swallow our pride. If we never questioned our elders, then perhaps we would take home the greatest jackpot.

This unwritten bargain will be familiar to immigrant children, whispered softly like a mother’s lullaby. We will make unimaginable sacrifices to raise you in America, land of riches, and you will play the role of the dutiful daughter, living a life of immeasurable happiness.

Lying in bed that night, I couldn’t find the words to explain to my dad how lost I felt. Depression had stolen my voice, betrayed my mind and filled my soul with an insidious darkness. No map could lead me out of this bleak, nameless place. Instead, I lay in wait, knowing my dad, my hero, would sacrifice his life to light the way home.

Jen Soong is a writer and brand strategist with more than two decades of media and marketing experience. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she grew up in a small town in New Jersey, lived in NYC, Boston and London before moving to Atlanta in 2005. A graduate of Cornell University, Jen is working on a memoir about one woman’s struggle to understand her depression and her family’s history of suicide.

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

Guest Posts, Mental Health

Spun

March 2, 2018

By Tessa Torgeson

I wore all black from the tip of my pointed witch’s hat, to my wig, to my boots. Meanwhile my younger sister Tara pranced around wearing her purple floral gown complete with a tiara, sparkly wings, and a light-up wand.

It was Halloween of 1991. The kitschy sounds of “Monster Mash” played as the banshee wind rattled the trees. The bite of a Midwest autumn day made our cheeks rosy and our fingertips white. We brewed apple cider, the warm tang of cinnamon sticks on our tongue.

Mom applied special rouge, pastel eyeshadow, and pink lipstick to Tara’s face. Now that Tara was it was my turn to feel like a movie star. Mom applied black lipstick, a hint of mascara, and white face powder to my face. It looked like a hideous mask that I wanted to peel off. I looked sickly; Tara looked ethereal.

The boiling point came when my mom drew a realistic wart on my nose with black eyeliner.  With hot tears running down my face, I stormed down the hall of our split-level house to my bedroom. I slammed the door with all the fury a five-year-old girl could muster and kicked aside the mess of Barbie dolls strewn on the snot-green carpet on Tara’s side of the room. Grabbing an Arthur picture book off the shelf, I grabbed my tattered yellow blanket, and curled into bed. I felt like I had just swallowed a porcupine, spikes of anger and jealousy jabbed me. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

MY MOTHER IS CRAZY

January 24, 2018
crazy

By Leslie Lindsay

My mother is crazy. This is no lie.

She is not fun-day-at-the-mall-get-whatever-you-want crazy; she is flaming-crimson-I’m-going-to-kill-you-because-you-are-the-devil-crazy. Her eyes are glassy and bright, pockets of sunshine reflecting in the darkness. They dart from side to side, to side. She lifts her cigarette, inspects it like a specimen then plunges it into her mouth. There’s a pop as she pulls it out, rimmed with bold berry lipstick, then shakes off the ashes.

My mother is crazy.

She thinks she killed the postman. This comes out in puffs of gray, a frenzy of words not connecting. I’m sorry. I didn’t. Mean. Tokillthepostman.

Dust motes dance in the sunlight peering from the gauzy drapes. She reaches out; her slim, menthol-smelling fingers attempt to pinch the flakes of dead skin cells, bug fragments, and sparkles of emptiness. Diamonds, she says. She throws her head back, cackles, then reaches for her mug of hot tea. Steam rims the cup, hot and life-giving. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, Surviving

Triggered

January 12, 2018

By Jessica Standifird

The building looks new from outside, but this office feels old. The carpet is beige and stained, dust has made nests in the corners, and all of the furniture is from the 1980s and trying really hard to be comfortable. A large wooden desk sits in front of the only window, files with paper tongues sticking out are littered across its surface. There’s a computer monitor with a scheduling calendar displayed on the screen.

The psychiatrist my disability lawyer sent me to sits across from me in a rolling office chair. One leg kicked up over the other, ankle on knee. I’ve already forgotten his name. His hair is running away from his face, apparently so quickly that what strands remain are left to the wind. His glasses are gold medal frames stuck so deeply into his nose that I imagine he has to pry them off at night. He is angular and at ease in this place. He is Ichabod Crane in his forties, post a divorce he hardly even noticed.

The chair I’m in is in the middle of the room. There is nowhere to set my purse and drink but on the floor. I am an awkward island in a sea that is past its prime. My palms are damp.

We started this appointment by Ichabod bursting into the waiting room and accusing me of being late. When I said I thought I was supposed to be there at ten-thirty, he admonished me. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, Relationships

Tub Stories: Sex Ed

November 13, 2017
tub

By Dru Rafkin

I stared at her soaking in the tub.

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” I lied to my mother’s face without looking at it. “I just feel really cranky and sad.”

I sat on the edge of the toilet in her tiny bathroom, my knees fist distance from the edge of the tub. I wanted so badly for her to be soft with me, to comfort and advise me. I was 18 and had just lost my virginity the night before to my 23 year old boyfriend, Tom.

Tom worked at the corner gas station near our old apartment. My father was disappointed in my choice of a motorcycle-riding-gas-station-attendant boyfriend; my mom really liked him. Tom was charismatic, kind and protective. After a year of making out I knew he’d waited long enough.

I craved the closeness and warmth of kissing him, being near him and holding his hand, but our frequent make out sessions had always left me feeling dirty, used up and violated; I thought I loved him but felt no connection from my body to his. I wanted to want to have sex but, really, it only seemed like the next necessary step to having a real relationship. When he lay on top of me, kneading my breasts with his rough hands and kissing my neck I felt like a mountain that was being climbed – my body provided the route of handholds to get him to the top.  Afterwards he would climb down, elated and spent. I’d feel remorseful and sick to my stomach, wishing I could set the clock back an hour each time I gave him access to my parts. I had hoped that having sex would provide the missing link to my feeling connected to him and to myself, but now I only felt more alone, vulnerable, disconnected and ashamed. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

When Death Keeps You Alive

October 4, 2017
life

CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting CONNECT to 74174. The world need you.

By Lisbeth Welsh

“Adrian died yesterday.”

I was 11.

“Adrian died yesterday.”

Adrian was 20.

He seemed like such a grown up to me then.  Now I’m staring 40 square in the eye. I realize how short his twenty years actually were. My last memory of him is the top of his legs.  I stood looking out of my parents upstairs landing window. His gold Ford Sierra was parked outside.  I looked down from above, his torso and face obscured by the sun visor.

“Lets go see Adrian.” My friend Sara said.

“No not tonight.”

I was 11. He was 20. How would I know ‘not tonight’ would turn into ‘not ever again?’ How could I know that I was staring at him in the exact seat he would die in the next day? I will spend the rest of my life wishing I’d run out to that car.  But I was 11. It wouldn’t have re-written history. I know that.  I know that because I have spent years battling my own monsters.  Twenty years. No more than the amount he survived.  From eating disorders to self-harm to depression and anxiety.  With no self-respect and little self worth. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

A Reluctant Dance

September 28, 2017
dance

By Diane E. Baumer

Plastic and expressionless, they lay in a pile, haphazardly tossed in with the fluffy pink elephant, the snow white Dalmatian with dark black spots, and the bright orange snake with the long red tongue named after my uncle Don.  Of my treasured dolls, my favorite was Chickenhead.  Her indelicate name came from my grandfather, who had aptly described her ratty coarse brown stand-up hair, the product of months and months of being grasped in a tiny hand and dragged along to every engagement that could ever be considered important in a 6-year-old’s life.

Chickenhead lived with the rest of my dolls and stuffed animals in a tall cardboard box tucked in the corner of a closet in the master bedroom that spanned the front of the house; my parents’ bed was in the center of the room, and I slept at the foot, in a kid-sized bed, complete with railings so I wouldn’t fall out.  I’d sometimes crawl in the closet during the day, or late at night when I couldn’t sleep. With the door closed, it was dark as night and it was so quiet it would almost shut out the tense but hushed quarrels from the living room.  It was child-small, but comfortably cozy, filled with that woody smell that comes with old houses and hardwood floors.  I did all my thinking and wondering and worrying there, even though my mom said I was too young to have anything to worry about.  The way I saw it, though, she only had me to look after.  I had her and Chickenhead and Mrs. Beasley and all my other dolls to protect.  I remember one morning when dad was home and we were sitting on the red couch in the living room – mom called it a divan in those days – and he took my doll dressed in the pretty pink gingham dress and threw her against the wall, laughing.  I watched her, eyes wide and unblinking, tumbling through the air in slow motion, skirt flying up and exposing her shamefully.  She hit the wall with a thud and slid down, landing in a heap on the floor, unmoving.  My dad’s laughter echoed in my head, as I sat there, horrified.  “That,” he said, “is what happens to little girls when they misbehave.”  He tousled my hair.  “But you’re a good girl, aren’t you?”  My chest felt tight; I couldn’t catch my breath. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, suicide

Seeing You After Suicide

September 15, 2017
suicide

CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting CONNECT to 74174. The world need you.

By Alyssa Limperis

I get obsessed with suicide. I don’t want to kill myself. I don’t want anyone to kill themselves. But whenever I hear that someone committed suicide, I can’t get it out of my head. I get obsessed with them. I read everything about their life and try to understand when death became their only option. When death became an exhale to an unthinkably laborious inhale. When was that moment and was I around to witness it? Was I deaf to the noise of the final last gasps?

It’s strange but once someone dies of suicide, I start expecting to see them everywhere. I look for them on the streets, waiting to hold them and see them in peace and say it’s ok. I love you. So many of us love you. We are holding your pain and overnight, it has become our own. We didn’t know it had gotten this far but you are not alone and we will hold you until the pain dulls. I look for these people on the street to tell them how important they are to us and how the days without them have felt like months. But they aren’t there. They won’t be there. Instead, we now have to find them and carry them with us through the remainder of our journey here. We will have to see them in a memory, find them in a song. We will keep them with us but they don’t get to stay. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, love, Mental Health, sisters

Piece

July 28, 2017
beaten

CW: This essay discusses sexual assault. If you or someone you know has been assaulted, find help and the resources you need by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673, or visit www.RAINN.org.

Note: most names have been changed.

By Noreen Austin

Gere’ December 1993

My sister Gere’(Jer-ray) has been missing from her North Hollywood, California group home for several days. Raoul, her counselor, a stocky man, coiled with a black belt in martial arts, has the skills to survive in this socioeconomic oppressed part of town. He cares for the mentally disabled. His home is a place of refuge in hopelessness. But he can’t keep Gere’ safe after all, and he files a missing person’s report with Los Angeles County.

My father calls me in my Northern California home from his apartment in Southern California and explains, “She was badly beaten.” The police had interviewed Gere’. They told Raoul they had never seen anyone so severely beaten and still able to walk.

“She wasn’t taken to the hospital?” I ask.

“She bolted before the ambulance got there.” My father says.

Gere’ is 29-years old, has Tuberous Sclerosis, a gene mutation that causes tiny benign tuber-like tumors to grow onto the ends of the synapses in her brain. Autism, learning disabilities, hyperactivity, anger and defiance behavioral problems, ash-leaf shaped skin pigmentations, and seizures are a few of the symptoms of this condition. Some people with TS don’t have seizures. But Gere’s started when she was eighteen months. Each seizure causes brain lesions, which contributes to her cognitive decline. It’s easy for me to understand her confusion. The police are there to arrest bad people. The police are talking to her. It’s when the police leave the room to get some information from Raoul that Gere’ runs. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

On Having “Issues”

March 30, 2017
issues

By Laura Romain

Last night I dreamed about my ex-fiancé’s new girlfriend. In real life, I know nothing except her name, but my dream turned her into everything I wish I could be: radiant, smiling, lighthearted.

I dreamed that I shouted at her. I cursed her relationship with my ex. I seethed with jealousy that I would never acknowledge in my waking life. Why did this woman—the product of my own imagination—trigger such animosity in me, such envy?

Here’s the truth: the worst part wasn’t that she was beautiful. It wasn’t the bright sweep of her hair, the perfect gleam of her teeth. It wasn’t even that she’d entered into a relationship with my ex.

The worst part was that she was happy. In other words: not anxious, not depressed. It wasn’t her looks or her relationship status that truly made me jealous. It was her mental health.

Somewhere deep in my subconscious, I believe that life is easy for people who don’t have fears and anxieties and merciless self-criticism strapped to them like sandbags. I believe that their work comes naturally to them, whereas my negative self-talk makes sitting at my computer feel like hurling myself in front of a firing squad. I believe that mentally healthy people are guaranteed fulfilling, successful relationships, whereas I second-guess myself to the point that I have no idea what I even think of the men I date. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, Surviving

Mother And Daughter: An (In)Complete History of (Almost) Suicide

March 12, 2017
suicide

CW: This piece discusses suicide and suicidal ideation.

By Amy Buchanan

One of my earliest memories is this: Sitting in the passenger seat of an old, beat-up blue Volkswagen, tracing a raindrop with my finger as it slides down the window and swallows up other raindrops along the way. My bare feet don’t yet touch the floor. I’m barely tall enough to see the gray world outside. My pajamas are twisted up, cutting a red line into my neck. My mother’s boyfriend opens the door and ponderously shoves a wastebasket full of my socks into the back seat. He is a bear of a man; I adore him, but he can be scary. This morning he is scary. Just sitting next to him brings anxious tears to my eyes.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“I’m taking you to some people. You’re going to live with them now.” He forces the car in gear, and we begin to drive away.

“Where is my mom?” I cry, a keening sound too big for my small body.

“Who the hell knows. Probably going to the ocean to drown,” he looks at me. “She doesn’t want you anymore. Now shut it.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, No Bullshit Motherhood

This Cross I Bear

March 10, 2017
sunshine

By Leslie Wibberley

I should have seen the signs, long before she fell so far and so hard. Instead, I just kept pushing. “You can do this, sweetie, just focus and try harder.” Seemingly innocuous words, I thought. Encouraging words, right?

Wrong.

I should have known better. After all, I’d grown up with a mother who suffered from clinical depression and had attempted suicide on more than one occasion. With that kind of family history, you would have thought I’d have seen this coming.

Well, I didn’t.

I grew up with a mother who lived in perpetual darkness, but also with a father who epitomized sunshine. For every storm cloud that gathered and dumped its torrents of rain across my mother’s sorrow filled shoulders, there came a gentle breeze filled with warmth, sunshine, and the music of song birds; my dad.

I like to think I take after him. Continue Reading…