New Normal… Again

me dad

It’s been over 2 months since I’ve written anything.  It’s beyond hard because I just don’t know what to say anymore.

My dad passed away October 9, 2014 after a short but hard fought battle with small cell lung cancer.  I didn’t write here about his diagnosis other than mentioning it once simply because he read my blog and I didn’t want him to come here and read about how depressed I was knowing I was losing him.  So I just quit writing altogether to avoid that.  He was diagnosed in May and passed away in October- it’s unbelievable and I feel like my heart has been stomped… again.  Since 2012 I have lost so many people I loved- 6 to be exact- and it feels like it’s never going to end.  I begged God to take my Daddy and end his suffering because sometimes you truly do have to love someone enough to let them go.  Knowing that I will see him again one day is the only thing that keeps me going at this point- that and my children.  They are heartbroken as well.  Pop was their world.

me dad
Photo by Kayla Cobb at KC Photography

Brynlee underwent cleft palate repair surgery October 14, 2014.  Yes, it was a crazy few weeks.  She is so strong and did amazingly well.  We spent the night at Children’s of Alabama and she was released the next morning.  Her recovery has been astounding.  She weighs 19lbs 10oz and is almost 30 inches long.  She completely skipped 9 month clothing and went from 6 months to 12 months.  She wears mostly 18 month pants and leggings because she’s so tall and has thunder thighs.  :)  She goes back for her cleft repair follow-up and another modified barium swallow study November 6th.  She just started crawling!  She can also sit up and is still just a delight to be around.

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We started our homeschool year and it was going fantastic, but with Dad’s sickness and Brynlee’s surgery, we have taken October off.  We will begin again in November and probably not take as long as I had planned off in December to make up for lost time.  One of the reasons I wanted to homeschool this year was because I know things were going to be tough on the kids when Dad passed away so I feel like we definitely made the right decision keeping Bryson home.  Bryson is reading, spelling, sounding out words, counting to 100, and doing some basic math.  I’m so proud of him!

fall fair 2014 collage

These pictures are from the fair- 2 weeks to the day before my Daddy died.  He didn’t feel like going, but he had not missed a fair since Bryson was born and he knew it would be his last so he went anyways.  I’m so thankful for those last few memories we made together- picnics at the playground, the fair, playing h-o-r-s-e in the driveway, and simply spending time together.

I don’t want to quit writing so hopefully I can return to my favorite form of therapy now that we are learning to live with our “new normal” again.  What is normal anyway?  For us, normal is ever changing.  One year ago, normal did not include cancer, trachs, feeding tubes, surgeries, pumping, syringes, etc.  We just keep going- that’s all I know.

On Depression, Choices, & the Daily Struggle

prom 2005

I wrote this yesterday and shared it on my Facebook page. It’s long (2,000 words) so I did not expect people to actually take the time to read it all. But, they did. They commented and shared. I think we all just want to know that we are not alone. I’m reposting here on my blog so I can easily find this in the future.

I was twelve years old. I was pretty and popular. I was a cheerleader, a basketball player, a world-championship-winning shortstop. I was a straight A student who participated in “gifted” classes. I was surrounded by friends. I had wonderful, loving parents who gave me the world. By all accounts, I had absolutely nothing to be depressed about. I would hear that over and over in the following years “What does she have to be depressed about!?”

I had no idea what depression was at twelve. All I knew is that it was becoming harder and harder to be happy. I still played the sports, went out with friends, and slapped on my happy face but alone in my bedroom, I was sad. I didn’t know why.

It worsened as I turned thirteen and became a teenager.

I don’t know if all the signs were ignored or weren’t caught. It doesn’t matter. I know that I became an expert at putting on that happy face.

Paper was the one place I could not apply that happy face. When I began to write, my hands would take over, my brain happy to let go, to be real with someone, something- even if it was just a sheet of notebook paper.

Paper was eventually how I slipped. On Fridays, we always had some kind of writing assignment in PE. It was an innocent question we were asked to write about- what kind of car did we want to drive when we turned 16? Oh, what a fun question for any girl who couldn’t wait to turn 16 and drive! Except that one girl, 13 at the time, who didn’t want to turn 16 and drive a car because all she wanted to do was die. She could lie to your face, but the truth always prevailed on paper. And it did that day and she thought nothing of it.

Until a week later, Valentine’s Day 2003, I found myself in the office of that PE coach with a psychologist. She was asking about my answer to that question. I would meet with her for the rest of the school year. I went to my family doctor and was prescribed a very low dose of antidepressants. They can fix me, I thought. This is fixable.

But things only became worse. My attitude was chalked up to being a spoiled rotten little brat but there was more going on. I would often pray myself to sleep, asking God to please just let me die. Dear Lord, please just take me so I don’t have to do it on my own and hurt the people who love me even more. Please don’t let me wake up in the morning. Please, please, take this hurt and this pain. Let someone else, someone who is happy and not fucked up have this life they want and take me because I don’t want it.

I couldn’t sleep most nights. I would take OTC sleeping meds in order to sleep and they didn’t work half the time. I would still be up when my parents woke up for work in the morning. I missed a lot of school which became kind of a joke in the school. If they only knew the battles I faced, it probably wouldn’t have been quite so funny.

That summer after my original diagnosis, I finally gave in. God wouldn’t take me but I couldn’t take the pain any longer. I was 14. I took a shower, I started with my bottle of Zoloft and then one by one, I wiped out the medicine cabinet. Once again, my words stepped in to save me. I had written a goodbye in an online journal that very few people knew about but the right person read it at the right time. My goodbye ended up saving my life. Over 300 pills later, I found myself in the ER fighting a tube going down my throat to pump my stomach. I was pissed. So very mad.

Well meaning friends and family came by so I threw on my happy face while in the ICU. One person while I’m sure she was well intentioned did more harm that good. She came in my ICU room and put her finger to my chest then pressed and asked if I didn’t know God. After she left, I attempted to remove my own IVs. Yes lady, I knew God. In fact, I had begged him to take my life and He wouldn’t. Quiet whispers (not quiet enough, I heard them) spun through our community. By the time I was transferred to the psychiatric ward at a larger hospital in Birmingham, I was supposedly pregnant and had apparently been molested. Because this girl, she had nothing to be depressed about. So let’s make up some quick rumors- let’s give her a story to go with her depression.

While in the psychiatric ward, they tried many medications. When you are severely clinically depressed, you are like a guinea pig. They don’t know what will work and when you are only 14, that really complicates things. I was still pissed that I was alive and even madder that my parents left me in that place. I refused to see them one day and also refused to see a local pastor. Finally, the doctors landed on the right medication and I went home. We had worked on coping skills and I was only allowed to leave the hospital with an agreement to go to therapy in Huntsville three days a week. I quickly graduated that program- I slapped on that happy face and I was in a class with the kind of teenagers you think of when you hear “depressed” so I looked like I was doing awesome. My hair was fixed; I had on make up, and a big smile, the cuts on my wrist hidden under bracelets. I rocked that program. I was definitely doing better but I was still far from your typical 14 year old.

I quit every sport and I lost the majority of my friends. They were all typical 14 year olds and here I was, the same age but completely different. Who could blame them? No one was sure how to act around me.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of my medication was anorexia. Yes, no joke. While I became able to cope with my depression, I became anorexic. On the rare days that I would eat, I would end up vomiting. I lost 40 pounds and the doctors threatened to take my medication if I lost more. Thankfully, I did not.

Justin and I became friends about 6 months after my suicide attempt. He didn’t know me then so he held no judgments. Though he was originally from here, he had moved for several years and had just moved back so he missed me at my worst. He didn’t see me as “that girl” and that was freeing for me. I was still very much struggling, but he never tried to fix me. He looked past the scars and fresh wounds on my wrist and my crazy moments. He took me fishing and he had no expectations of me and he taught me how to have fun. That summer holds some of my fondest memories and those memories are because of him. I have absolutely no doubt that God sent him to step into my life and change the course of it forever.

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I ended up playing one more season of softball and another season of volleyball, but the spark was no longer there for me. The things I loved were now chores and after a season of each, I knew I was done for good. I could no longer relate to my peers.

It has now been twelve years since my original diagnosis and suicide attempt. I never attempted suicide again and I never will. I learned not only to cope with my depression but also to recognize when things were becoming dangerous. My senior year of high school, I was near suicidal again and made the decision to quit school (a controversial decision) and take care of myself. Everyone had an opinion on that decision and many of my classmates flat out made fun of me for quitting so close to graduation, but it was the right thing for me and I knew it.

I won’t lie- I am still not the most mentally stable person you’ll ever meet. I struggle daily. I have not sliced my wrists since December 2007 and I am proud of that. I have good days and bad days. The past 2 years have been very difficult for me and they have no doubt taken a toll, but I am able to cope. On the worst days, I am able to see through the darkness and know that there is light somewhere. I may not always know where or how to find it, but I know it’s there. God blessed me with an angel of a husband who stands by me even on the bad days. I know that I am not an easy person to love, but he does and he does it well.

I began writing this after reading an article that stated Robin Williams did not die of a disease, but from a choice. I don’t know his story, but what I do know is that my story began when I was only 12 years old and I didn’t know what depression was. How could I choose something that I didn’t know existed? It was not a choice.

For those of you who believe that this is simply a spiritual problem, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that you have never been clinically depressed. I believe that God has given me this story for a reason. He put me on this path and I pray my way through the day every day. I have prayed for God to take this depression from my life, but if I had never walked this path, how would I reach out to help others? If I had not faced the darkness, I would not be able to reach into the night to remind someone else that morning does indeed come.

Depression is a disease. Clinical depression is different than being depressed for a few days. Depression is not a choice. It is no more a choice than cancer. Sometimes with cancer, patients choose to let go and refuse treatment because they feel the fight is not worth it. It is the same with suicide- when I swallowed 300 pills at 14 years old, I thought my quality of life was not worth the battle. I had fought and fought, I had taken medication and talked through it, but my quality of life was not improving. I thought I could remove myself as a burden to those who loved me. I thought I was doing the world a favor.

With a clear mind now, I know those were all lies. Depression says “you are worthless” and “life isn’t worth living” and those things are not true. Morning does come. There is light, but you have to hang on. And hang on. And hang on. And fight. And fight. And fight. If you feel as if you have no one to fight with you, I will fight with you. Do not let this society make you feel as if you are beyond repair. You are not beyond repair. You may come out with a few scars, some scratches and dings, but if you are living and breathing, I promise it is not too late. Seek help. Your first steps may not work, but keep going. Keep seeking, keep fighting, and keep trying. On the other side, beyond the darkness, there is a light and a life worth living. Yes, even for YOU.

Less stuff. More you, mama.

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I could hear that little voice saying, “No, you are doing it all wrong.  You are giving them more stuff, but less of YOU.  You are what they want, what they need, mama.”  It had been there, tugging and pulling at my heart for a few months when Brynlee was born.  I had become a work at home mother and there is nothing wrong with that, but I had let the “work” become more important than the “mother” and that is not okay.

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photo credit:  Kayla Cobb Photography

I didn’t quit my job to stay at home with my firstborn over 5 years ago to be saying things like, “No, Mommy can’t play right now.  She has to work.”  Those words usually came out with a long sigh and full of frustration.  Every day, the delivery man (as my kids call him) would bring something new and add to my work load.  Shiny, fun toys, expensive gear, things we probably wouldn’t buy or could not afford, and I would smile and show the kids our delivery of the day.  Within days (sometimes hours) the new would be worn off and I would once again hear that voice saying, “You’ve got it backwards.  Less stuff. More you, mama.”  We could get by without the extra money and we definitely didn’t need the stuff, but my pride.  There’s that word- pride.  My blog, my work- I took pride in it.  Pride isn’t necessarily always a bad thing, but in this case- it was.  As a mother, we need something to be proud of, but what I’ve finally learned is that I want to be proud of the mother and the wife that I am.  I want those things to always come first and not “in just a minute” but now.

Brynlee Jan 12 Giddy FB

When Brynlee was born with PRS, everything came to a screeching halt.  I had no choice but to pull out of campaigns and let those deadlines slide.  What!?  It’s Holiday Gift Guide time, don’t you know!?  What I found is that letting it all go and focusing on my family- that was freeing.  The load that I had put on myself (no excuses, this was totally on me) was heavier than I had realized and my children were paying the price.

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photo credit:  Kayla Cobb Photography

Years before I became a brand partner or a review blogger, I was a teenager sitting behind a computer pouring out words because that was the only way I could get out everything I was feeling.  Ten years and 3 kids later, that is where I feel the push to return.  Just with a few extra pounds and less angst.  This isn’t to say that I will never share products or brands with you all, because I absolutely will.  I love partnering with brands that I genuinely love and I enjoy being able to give back to my readers through giveaways, but those partnerships will be less.  Way less.  For the last 5+ weeks, I’ve written for me and I’ve shared our family and that just feels right.  The blog deliveries have all but stopped, I’ve deleted all but one new campaign that has come my way, and I don’t feel overwhelmed with work.  Not once have I said to my children, “Just a minute.  Let mom work right now.”  Not a single time.  But you know what?  When I sit down at the computer, my kids will say, “Mom, can you do this…. when you finish your work?”

blessed mama

Oh, my heart.  How wrong I have been.  They think that they come after my work.

Never again.

I am so, so sad that Bryson and Bella think that way.  I could easily cry buckets over it, but I won’t.  Instead, I am thankful that my eyes are opened and we can move on.  From now on, work will come after the children.  I can see God working through Brynlee’s diagnosis and though it feels like our world was flipped upside down, I’m fairly certain it’s just the opposite- everything is falling into place.  As it should be.  A hard lesson, but one that this mama desperately needed.

It’s time for the kids to wake.  It’s time to connect feeding tubes and suction our her trach.  It’s time to eat breakfast without worry about all of the “work” I need to finish today.  It’s time for cartoons and cuddles.  It’s time to take pride in being a mama and know that being a mama and wife- that’s enough.  More than enough.

My cup overflows.