Musings on Mental Health

I started this post a week ago, so the event described as taking place “this morning”, actually took place last Thursday.

Scarlett’s two week well check occurred this morning. She is gloriously healthy so far, regaining her birth weight and then some and lengthening an inch.
The poor baby endured another heel prick for the second newborn screen. She did NOT like it and howled in a most Lucy-like fashion while the lab tech performed the test. As I nursed her to sleep after in the exam room, my mind wandered.
The kids’ regular doctor was not available today. The one we saw examined Max once before and we both liked him very much. This doctor obviously counts a little girl named Lucy among his patients, because three drawings signed “Lucy” decorated the wall. The words “Lucy love” were even scrawled across the top of one.
Between that and the discussions of cardiomyopathy and heart function that constitute a regular part of our pediatrician visits now, the possible loss of another child weighed on my mind a bit. If I’m being honest, it is never all that far from my thoughts, although it is a fairly remote possibility at this point. I found myself thinking about how I still feel so much fear of losing another child, as well as the same things I’ve always feared. I know people expect that you have more clarity concerning what is really important after losing a child. They expect it to be easier to enjoy your remaining children, if you have them, and to focus on what’s really important.
Sometimes it is. It should always be. That should be the payoff for the horrible pain of losing a child. For me anyway, it’s not that easy.
It stands to reason that we survived it once, so we would survive it again, right?
Probably. But everyone has their limit. Then I remembered that I reached my limit once before and survived. When I broke down in graduate school, I finally reached the limit of years of mental self-abuse and stress. Somehow, I survived, despite not receiving a diagnosis or any therapy for 6 years. It took a decade for me to feel like myself at all again. I thought that person was gone forever, so this was a pleasant surprise.
I finally saw the therapist who diagnosed my nervous breakdown, because I wanted to have children. Furthermore, I wanted to have my head on straight before the first one was born. I made huge progress before Max was born, but it was my children who actually began the healing process. I never intended for my children to “fix” me. I hope it did not come at a high price for them.
I never once wanted to or tried to kill myself, but that does not make me better than anyone else. I am strong, but I am also lucky. Despite the sometimes extraordinary suffering I experienced during the 12 years since my breakdown, I am still here. I know my mind flat-out lies to me and tries to hurt me sometimes. I know that my fears aren’t real, because I got help. Although only my husband and the two therapists I’ve seen know everything, I spoke up. Darkness thrives with more darkness. It disappears with light. That light comes from openness and understanding.
Living with mental illness takes more strength and courage than you can possibly understand if you have not experienced it. Anyone can experience it, even if you have no history of it. No one is immune. The mind can become ill and be healed just like the body. Sometimes the illness is chronic, just like with the body. Someone with chronic depression or anxiety is no weaker than someone with cancer or an autoimmune disease. It’s no less real and deserving of treatment, sympathy, and understanding. It is no less painful and tragic when their disease takes their life, however that occurs.
I am proud of everything I’ve survived. I feel like I am made of steel sometimes. Although I wish that life didn’t ask so much of me, I am grateful to have these hard-won coping skills.

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