Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Let's Talk About Depression, Baby

Hey guys, what up? So I have this insanely cute three month old baby, who, sheesh, acts like a baby sometimes. Okay, I don't know what it is, but in all honesty, there is something so cute about Wallace that I just want to eat his chubby baby cheeks. Like it is a literal biological desire inside of me to gnaw on his cheeks. I can't help myself. But good grief that boy is a lot of work. Bria was probably the world's easiest baby. I think this is because her soul is approximately 80 years old, so everything in life she's like "meh, nothing fazes me." Wally's soul is brand new, I think. Everything in life he's like "what. the. hell." This is an overstatement. If you compare anyone to the World's Easiest Baby (Bria), they're gonna seem like a colicky monster. So I'm mostly just kidding. Wally falls in a completely normal range.

This is to say that I'm really glad I'm in a better emotional place this time. What is it about emotional issues-- "mental illness"-- that we feel like it's weird to talk about? I'm going to talk about it a bit. I wrote this draft several days ago, and I have debated whether or not to post it. This stuff is hard to talk about!

When Bria was born I launched into a dark haze of postpartum depression. I didn't know how much was normal, and I had no idea how to get help. I feel sad knowing I didn't enjoy that time as much as I could have had I addressed the problem, because it lasted a year. A whole year of my life and Bria's entire life up until that point.

This time around I was on alert going into things. I took some precautions to ward off depression, and Sam and I talked a lot the first few days. The labor and delivery were 8000% times better this time around, so I wasn't coming off any trauma, but we were both cautiously surprised when I felt fairly stable and happy at first.
Then the anxiety started settling in. I have a long history of intense anxiety-- mostly social-- though this was a kind I had never experienced before. All day long I had a constant pit in my stomach. When I thought about anything, it would make me feel incredibly nauseated. I really mean anything. It could be "Bria has school tomorrow" or "I'm going to watch an episode of New Girl while I feed Wally," and this wave of nausea would make me cringe and sometimes double over. I felt sick with anxiety all day every day. It created this static separating me from reality. You know when you're hands are freezing cold so that you can't move them properly-- they almost feel like they're moving at half speed? That's how I felt emotionally. Though I felt constantly panicked and frantic, I also felt paralyzed. And though I was so exhausted I would be near tears by 8 or 9 every evening, I would lie in bed at night and just stare at the wall, wide awake. I would also wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to go back to sleep, sometimes for up to an hour.
The other thing I was dealing with is actually pretty hard for me to talk about. In addition to anxiety, I also have a history of OCD, and after Wally was born, I noticed a return of obsessive thoughts. I am lucky I haven't had to work through any compulsive behavior recently, but obsessive thoughts can still be incredibly intrusive. As I walked around the house holding Wally, all I could see were potential dangers. I had incredibly vivid thoughts of things like tripping, where I could see myself fall and Wally landing on his head, or smashing into a corner. Even sitting down I would panic about potentially dropping him. All day long I just had these detailed images of Wally being injured in various accidents. It was as disturbing as it sounds.
After a month I knew I needed some real help, but I wasn't sure how to get it-- which was part of my problem the first time. Looking back, I should have lined up a therapist before I had Wally, just in case. I didn't know if I should call a doctor, find a therapist at that point, or what. I waited until my 6 week follow-up appointment with my midwife and explained the situation. She gave me the names of a couple people to call, including the Five Trimesters Clinic at GW. This is an amazing place that offers short-term counseling and psychiatry services to women who are trying to get pregnant, are pregnant, or postpartum. The services are significantly discounted so that anyone has access during such a potentially fragile and unstable period of life. They will meet with you a handful of times to establish a plan (recommending support groups or counselors, prescribing needed medications, etc.) so that you can take the reins of your own care after a couple months.
I set up an appointment to meet with one of the psychiatrists and met with her at the very end of January. After going through my history and discussing everything I was experiencing, she prescribed an SSRI to me.
The first ten days or so of taking it, I was so anxious I thought I was going to die. But then there was one day that I realized I felt normal. I didn't feel anxious. And the next day. And the next. After a week I realized my obsessive thoughts would only poke their heads in occasionally. I have felt more stable over the last month than I have felt in who knows how long. It's amazing. I was worried taking an antidepressant would make me feel flat or fuzzy, but I actually just feel like myself. And far from fuzzy, I feel like I've come out of an anxiety fog. Luckily I've also connected with a therapist who is helping me work through some issues that keep getting me stuck. The sleep thing is coming along. I'm still not sleeping great, and though it takes me a long time to fall asleep at night, I don't wake up on my own (other than with Wally) anymore. So that's a relief. I hope this will continue to get better.

There is so much stigma that surrounds depression and anxiety, and if you've never experienced it, I think it can seem nebulous or dramatic. If you feel unfamiliar with depression and anxiety, I recommend watching this TED talk. His description of anxiety is the most accurate I've heard (at least how I experience it). I haven't spoken much publicly about my own experiences, but I think it's time. That stigma is part of what kept me from getting help six years ago. I am so happy that this time around I have the help I need so I can enjoy every moment of Wally's first year, gobbling up those chubby cheeks.

Monday, January 13, 2014

"Obamacare": One Average American Family's Experience

Guess what? I'm going to write about Obamacare. Guess what again? I'm going to call it the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because that's actually what it's called.
(There' s chance this will be part one of a series. This is the just the report of how it went signing up for an insurance plan. I think it's important for people to understand what the ACA means to families like ours, but I'm not super into talking about politics publicly. So we'll see.)

Let's get started with some back-story:

We are an average American family. My husband works full time as a self-employed television editor. I work occasionally as a freelance writer and I am also a graduate student, but mostly I am a stay-at-home mom to our two children.
Because Sam is self-employed and I am not really employed at all, we have purchased our own private insurance up until this point. It's actually not as simple as it sounds. Because of pre-existing conditions and cost, Sam has actually not had any health insurance since he was in college. Our daughter and I also flew by the seats of our medical pants until two years ago when we were finally in a financial position to pay for private health insurance. Up until that point, even though Sam worked full time (often up to 80 hours a week), and I worked consistently as a freelance writer and editor, we could not afford health insurance for any of us. I can't tell you how happy I am those days are over. But those are stories for another blog post. So there's a basic idea of where we are coming from.

Two years ago, we finally bought health insurance for me and our daughter. It cost about $360/month with a $2400 deductible. Nothing was covered until we met the deductible, but, thanks to the ACA, our daughter's well-child visits and my preventative care visits were covered at 100%. This meant she could get her immunizations and a check-up for $0. One year ago our premiums increased so that coverage for the two of us cost $459/month for the same plan.

I was eager to find out what our options would be going through Virginia's marketplace. I logged onto healthcare.gov pretty soon after it rolled out and was able to quickly start an application. I wasn't able to do much since I was pregnant. I was expecting our son at the end of November, so it made no sense to start our application just yet-- we needed coverage that started February 1st.
Shortly after the baby was born, I got back to my application. Only this time, I couldn't get past basic log-ins to start an application. Every time I tried, there was an error. I finally chatted with someone online, and they said I would need to call in order to complete my application. Annoying. Though I hadn't been aware I was able to complete everything over the phone, and the phone lines are open 24/7.
The first time I called, I waited to talk to someone for over an hour (though I recently called my current insurance company and waited on the phone for over 90 minutes, so...). I talked with the customer service representative for almost an hour as she verified all my personal information for the application, and gathered data according to my tax return to calculate our subsidy. She explained that we are able to use as much of the subsidy as we like. If we don't use the entire amount, it will become a tax credit, and we will receive a refund on next year's tax return.
Then, because I could not access anything online, she went over each of the insurance plans available to me. This was particularly frustrating because I had to write down the information for each plan. There were plans ranging from $120-$4000/month, so you can imagine it was a lot of information to go over-- though I obviously didn't bother going over the plans costing $4000. Sheesh.
I told her I would think about my options and get back to her, so she saved my application and gave me a reference number. Including wait time, I was on the phone for 2 hours.
I took the next week or two to research the plans we were interested in. I was able to find the plans on each insurance carrier's website. I compared deductibles, premiums, and coverage details. I was also able to search which providers were covered. Everything was very straightforward, simple, and easy to compare. We chose a plan with Innovation Health for two main reasons: the available plan already covers our pediatrician, my midwife, and psychologist. Also, visits to primary care and specialists are covered before meeting a deductible. So, if our daughter gets an ear infection, I pay $25 flat-- not $25 after meeting my deductible. Our deductible is quite a bit higher: $7000 for the year. If I were anticipating a big medical event (like having a baby) I would not choose a plan with such a high deductible. But under this plan, I only have to pay $50 to see my therapist, so the higher deductible is worth it to me.
I called back to update and finish our application. This time I waited less than ten minutes to speak to someone! (Note to self-- wait until January to make phone calls regarding insurance.) I told them how much of our subsidy we would use (not the entire amount), and informed them of our insurance plan choice. Then we went over dental plans, and I chose a plan that allows us to get check ups for $10 and covers everything else around 50%, with an out of pocket maximum at $1400. We finalized everything else, and he told me our new insurance companies (health and dental) would be in touch with me within 3-5 business days. Once I paid our first month's premiums, coverage would begin February 1st. We were on the phone a total of 30 minutes.
Health insurance to cover our family of four will cost $513/month and our dental insurance will cost $68-- including our subsidy.

So, was it frustrating that I couldn't get the healthcare.gov website to work and that I had to wait on the phone for over an hour the first time? Sure. But I now have legitimate health insurance for my entire family for $100 less per person per month. High fives all around.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fond Farewell

When I read the post I wrote one year ago today, it feels like ages and ages ago. I still shudder when I think about how horrible 2012 was. 2013 was so kind to me. This year I applied and was accepted to grad school, I (finally!) got pregnant, I gave birth to an almost 10 pound baby boy-- without medication, we moved to a house, we bought a second car, I visited family in California and Utah, and I rocked my first semester of grad school (4.0 folks). Obviously those are just the big things.
I used to think everything happened for a reason-- that all the hard things in my life happened to teach me a specific lesson. I think that attitude is part of what made 2012 so hard. I didn't understand what I was supposed to be learning from all of that junk, and it felt a little unfair-- like, "why is this happening to me??" And the thing I learned from all of that is that it's just life. Sometimes life just. plain. sucks. I hope in the coming years when I have another 2012 (because it's bound to happen) I can just roll with the punches a little better rather than getting bogged down by what it all means. Also because, just as sure as I'll have terrible years again, I'll also have more years just like this one.
I am looking forward to 2014. I don't have huge exciting plans (though Sam and I are planning to run the Richmond half marathon in November together), but I am looking forward to establishing a routine and getting out to explore this fine city again (now that I have a buddy to accompany me!). I'm not setting any resolutions because I never, never keep them. So I'm just going to keep doing what I was doing for the whole last year: work hard. I worked really hard this year to be emotionally stable (not an easy task for me), and I worked really hard to kick grad school's and childbirth's ass. I totally did it!
So, a fond farewell, 2013. Who knew you would be so great?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


On Monday I had my very last class of the semester-- and, as predicted, I did write my paper on Sunday night. 
I learned a lot of things this semester: namely, going to school during your last trimester of pregnancy (and first month postpartum) is no easy task. I had no idea how exhausting it would be!
Also this introduction to grad school was awesome. Everyone wanted to be there, all of the assignments were relevant, and my professor felt more like a guide than an instructor. 
I also gained a lot of confidence. I went into this semester feeling rather self-conscious of my age, my lack of professional experience, and the fact that I've been a stay-at-home mom for the last five and a half years. It's a work in progress, but I feel much more confident in my ideas and my ability to contribute to the class. At the beginning of the semester I felt panicked to make any comments, but by our final class I felt my undergraduate fervor returning and I was making comments left and right. (Maybe too many, as it turns out?)
Looking back it may have been a better plan for me to take the fall semester off and then start in January, but instead I am taking this next semester off and will return in the summer or fall. It will be good to dedicate myself to finding my groove as a mom-of-a-baby again, but I am already looking forward to getting back to school. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I had a baby and stuff

There are a million blog posts going through my head these days. I barely have a free second to eat lunch most days let alone make my thoughts coherent. Babies are the weirdest things. Somehow I do nearly nothing all day, but I have no time to do anything else. This newborn phase is short lived, though, and soon I'll be spending leisurely afternoons reading books and going to museums with my new little dude. 
Before that happens, though, I've got to figure out how were going to manage feeding. Bria was bottle fed because that girl wouldn't even try to latch. It's something I've mourned ever since. And now here comes my champion latcher, and my milk supply is practically non-existent. (When your baby is dehydrated and losing weight, you take these things very seriously.) So this new baby adjustment is now including coming to terms with the fact that both of my children will be formula-fed. I have lots more to say about this, but for now, I will just continue to let myself have some good cries about it. 
And, oh yeah, still finishing up the semester, folks! Final paper due Monday, and I'm pretty sure it's gonna get written on Sunday night. 
But look! I had a really cute baby, so it's all good. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

You're Doing a Good Job

Bria has been really sick all week (which means it's probably good this baby hasn't come yet), in fact, I decided around bedtime tonight I should probably take her to the doctor tomorrow, since her throat hurts so bad she couldn't even swallow raw tofu or bread. Since she's felt sick, I've been helping her brush her teeth, because she has cankers along both sides of her tongue, and it scares her that she'll hurt herself. (Understandable. Cankers are the pits, man.) While brushing her teeth tonight, I kept telling her to stick out her tongue so I could brush the top of it, but she just kept leaning her head back, and every time I would try to brush it, she'd pull it back in, and then she just drooled all this toothpastey goo all over my hands. In the history of losing my parental patience, it wasn't so bad, but it wasn't exactly honorable either. I mostly felt irritated, so I snipped a little and gave her an unnecessary lecture. As she finished getting ready for bed and came into her room to get tucked in, her spirits were rather down. She's had a tough week. Due to being sick, she had to miss her school's Thanksgiving lunch party today (many, many tears were shed about this). At dinner she explained that she's school sick: "it's like being homesick, but you miss school instead." And, despite also being very excited, she is experiencing some anxiety about the baby's imminent arrival. Let's not forget the fact that she was in tears this morning because the last of our billion pregnant friends went into labor today, and as Bria lamented "it feels like our baby is never going to come!" (me too, Bria. me too.) So, it's been rough for sweet little B. The last thing she needs is her mom snapping at her because it hurts to stick her tongue out. So before she climbed into her bed, I knelt down, looked her in the eyes and said, "You're doing a good job." Her face relaxed into a small smile, and she gave me a huge hug. The last couple minutes before I turned out her lights and shut her door were a good bonding moment for us as we chatted and sang a song together. All it took was me telling her she was doing a good job.
As I've learned many times in parenting, the same things that work for kids often work for adults. Most of us could really benefit from being told we're doing a good job. Lots of times we may not even be doing our best, but we're usually trying. And it's incredibly validating for our efforts to be recognized. The last two weeks of this pregnancy have been emotionally taxing as we just wait for my body to spontaneously go into labor. Sam is the Ultimate Supportive Champion, and there are times when he tells me I am doing a good job, and it really turns the situation around for me. It's validating to hear the hard work I've done has not gone unnoticed, and it encourages me to keep it up. (Not like I have a choice with pregnancy. I mean, I just gotta keep existing.)
The next experiment is to apply this to affirmations and self-talk. Is it just as efficient to tell yourself you're doing a good job? I'm going to try.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Pretending to Be Calm and Collected

oh, um, hello. I am now past my due date. I don't enjoy it. even though I have wanted to go overdue in order to go to one more of my classes on monday, I am still a fireball of anxiety. you know the thing about being pregnant? is that every woman experiences it differently. which means this is not the things about being pregnant-- this is actually just the thing about life and humans. but you can read birth stories looking for signs, and every one will be different. some women can sense the shift within their own bodies and know they are close to labor. some women feel like everything is staying put until suddenly they are bowled over with contractions. some women are in pre-labor for dddaaayyysss on end. there is absolutely no way to know when you will go into labor. some of us deal with that uncertainty better than others. in this scenario, some women feel like they are about to lose. their. freaking. minds. ummm... ahem. not me, of course. (ok, but really. I am about to lose my mind.)

I went on a long walk yesterday and watched the leaves swirl off the trees with each gentle gust of wind. It was miraculous and beautiful to watch them float and tumble through the air on their inevitable path to the street. I did my best to at least pretend to be calm and realized that I am like a leaf. This cycle of pregnancy has led me through various stages of development, and now it is almost time for the wind to blow me off the tree, into labor. There is no way of knowing which gust will finally release my stem from the branch, but it will happen soon. So I keep repeating to myself "I am a leaf. I am a leaf."