Adventures With Meditation

After reading Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart (which I highly recommend), I have been trying to meditate on a daily basis. The word “daily” is subject to interpretation. Over the weekend, for example, I did not formally meditate, but I did  pretend I was meditating while snuggling my kids. Totally counts.

I am home now with a napping toddler and messy house, and could have made the house less messy, but I prioritized meditation. I sat down cross-legged on my bed, with a pillow behind my back, put my palms on top of my thighs, and directed my gaze about four feet in front of me, looking slightly down.  I always thought I had to meditate with my eyes open, but Pema suggests meditating with eyes open. That has been working great for me.

Here’s a recap what happened while I meditated:

  • The music from one of my favorite songs from Les Mis drifted through my head until I realized I was humming a song about dead Frenchmen to myself.
  • A few seconds of emptiness
  • Why did I eat so much chocolate? Now my stomach hurts.
  • Maybe four seconds of silence in my head
  • Wow, it’s so much easier to meditate when I’m tired. I don’t think as much. I’m so glad I went swimming this morning during Julian’s swim lesson. I’m not thinking as much because I’m tired. Fuck, I’m thinking about NOT thinking, which means I’m thinking…
  • I’m going to blog about this when I’m done 
  • My gaze drifted upwards and I looked at a photo of Pippa on my dresser for at least twenty seconds. Then I realized I was admiring my beautiful daughter and returned my gaze to the floor.
  • Moment of quiet.
  • Then I imagined a big cartoon image of a brain being attacked from all sides by little monsters squishing it together.
  • Moment of quiet.
  • I started thinking about the episode of Shameless that I watched last night with Nathan.
  • My neck got itchy.
  • I scratched my neck.
  • I thought about the fact that I was scratching my neck.
  • I congratulated myself for thinking about the act of scratching my neck because at least I was thinking about something happening in the Here and Now.

TIME CHECK: 4 minutes and 11 seconds OH MY GOD HOW CAN IT ONLY HAVE BEEN FOUR MINUTES AND ELEVEN SECONDS

  • I’ll call the blog post about meditating “Adventures With Meditation” and isn’t that cute because my podcast is Adventures With Postpartum Depression and oh my god, I’m so lame.
  • %$#&
  • and
  • &*$%
  • and
  • #$*&
  • Moment of calm serenity
  • Congratulate myself on the moment of calm serenity
  • Realize that during the moment of calm serenity, my brain was not actually quiet. Instead, I was replaying a song from Moana.
  • %$^$*&#^@
  • I start thinking about the podcast interview I’m doing tomorrow and rehearse what I’ll say to the guest before we start the interview because it has been so long since I did a podcast interview and gulp, I’m a bit nervous…

TIME CHECK: 6 minutes and 39 seconds – Not bad, not bad at all! I’m rocking this meditation!

  • Pema suggests we direct our gaze downwards and four to five feet ahead but that means I’m looking at this pile of dirty laundry on the floor and criticizing myself for leaving laundry on the floor.
  • I quickly jot a note down about this on my iPhone and smile when the phone interprets Pema Chödrön as “Emma Shojin.”
  • It feels good to ventilate my brain. Pema uses the word “ventilate” a lot. That makes sense to me.
  • What should me and Julian do the Wednesday after next when his class is on winter break? 
  • I don’t seem to spend a lot of time dwelling on the past when I meditate but I sure spend a lot of time rehearsing and planning the future. 
  • When will Julian wake up from his nap? 
  • Will I have enough time to write after meditating? 
  • Should I do laundry first? 
  • When will my dad bring Pippa home? 
  • Did I remember to schedule the next Meetup for my peer support group? 
  • Moment of quiet.
  • Then: an intense visual image of a glass of Diet Coke and a strong craving for soda.

TIME CHECK: 10 minutes and 53 seconds

  • If you want to be immortal, all you have to do is spend the rest of your life meditating because time passes so slowly while meditating, you effectively become immortal.
  • I am so good at relaxing into the experience of meditation and being forgiving of all my thoughts.
  • My gaze wanders the room.
  • Intense feeling of boredom.
  • Quick visual memory of a person who treated me poorly.

TIME CHECK: 13 minutes and 23 seconds

Mic drop. I’m out!

Journal Excerpt: Being Hollow

I’m looking back through my journal from last month, and found this excerpt from Julian’s birthday, when he was in the middle of a big sleep regression after transitioning from crib to bed:

sometimes we need to be hollow

sometimes we need to be depleted

sometimes we need to struggle and feel like everything is over all done and lost

and then we rise back up

taking care of yourself is hard hard work

add two children to the equation?

jesus

that’s tough

It’s funny. I’m way past that moment. Today I feel alive and full, energized and vibrant. But I know I’ll be back to this sort of moment sooner or later. There are ups and downs, rises and falls. We feel full, then empty, full, empty, and endless cycle.

It’s good to know that there are days we feel depleted and days we feel full. On the days I feel empty, I remind myself that this has happened before, it will come to an end, and then it will happen again. That does not eliminate that empty feeling, but it does give me the boost I need until I start to recharge my batteries.

 

This is terrifying.

I love being an advocate for maternal mental health.  I love raising awareness about postpartum depression and doing things to crush the stigma of mental illness.  I love finding ways to help moms who are struggling. This is my passion. But that does not mean it is always easy to be an advocate.

Actually, sometimes it is downright terrifying.

Over a year ago, I designed a tote bag that says I believe in iced coffee, cute tote bags, and talking about postpartum depression. Carrying that bag around? Actually exhilarating. I never know who is going to see the bag and be helped by the message.

I also used to wear my Climb Out of the Darkness t-shirt to the gym. I wore it so many times, the fabric stretched and got wonky. Between the tote bag and Climb shirt, I assumed I was over the fear part of being an advocate for maternal mental health.

Nope.

Months ago, I bought a beautiful blue t-shirt designed by Tabitha Grassmid. It says “1 in 7 Women will experience postpartum depression.” I was so excited to wear my new shirt to the gym, preschool, the postpartum support group I run — everywhere!

But it stayed in the drawer day after day, week after week, as summer turned into autumn, and the Halloween frenzy turned in the Christmas hullabaloo.  I always had a reason to wait another day. It’s too hot today. It won’t look right with these leggings. I’m not in the mood to talk about PPD today

Yesterday, while I was getting dressed for the gym, I could not stop looking at the shirt in question. I took it out. I put it on. I looked in the mirror. And I thought, fuck it. Today was the day I was done with inventing excuses. I was wearing the postpartum shirt to the gym.

That’s when I realized I was actually terrified to wear the shirt. 

I love my tote bag, but it is a bag. I carry it, I hang it off the back of my stroller, but it is not actually on my body. It’s an accessory. There’s an emotional distance between my bag and my sense of self. 

My Climb Out of the Darkness shirt is not obviously a shirt about postpartum depression.  Even though I wear it on my body, it does not scream POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION.

The blue shirt, though, says it loud and it says it proud: “1 in 7 Women will experience postpartum depression.” That’s not exactly a declaration that I had postpartum depression, but I think most people who see me wearing it will jump to that conclusion. 

IMG_7513

Me! Wearing the shirt! 

As I left the house and took Pippa to preschool, I felt the terror. My skin tingled. I was very aware that I was wearing The Shirt and had transformed my torso into a billboard for postpartum depression.  As I walked past my fellow parents for the preschool dropoff, I felt ALIVE. 

Terror is terrifying, but it is also invigorating. I’m not saying you need to update your entire wardrobe and only wear clothing that says something about postpartum depression. But I am saying that sometimes the things we avoid doing the most are the things we really need to do.   

Today, for me, that meant wearing a shirt I had stuffed to the back of my drawer. In the grand scheme of things, wearing a shirt about postpartum depression is not a huge deal. It’s not as if I ventured into a dark cave to slay a monster.

But wearing the shirt today helped me practice being courageous. When I have to venture into a dark cave and face a monster, I know I’ll be ready.

The Night I Slept With Urine

A few nights ago, Julian came into our bedroom at 4 a.m. shaking around an empty bottle a little milk junkie seeking his next fix. Little did I know that my side of the bed would soon be drenched in his urine.

Let me backup.

Julian turned two years old last month. Right before his birthday, he climbed out of his pack n play (which he preferred over the crib). My husband and I knew it was Game Over, disassembled his crib, folded up the Pack n Play, and moved him into Pippa’s room. We had a couple of rough weeks with him waking up before the literal crack of dawn and refusing to go back to sleep, but we survived. After a couple of weeks, Julian adjusted to the big boy bed and started sleeping until the much more civilized hour of 6 a.m. Hooray!

Except a few nights ago, he stumbled into our bedroom at 4 a.m. shaking an empty bottle, clearly wanting a few fresh sips so he could get back to sleep. It being 4 a.m., we were not interested in reasoning with a toddler, so Nathan headed off to the kitchen for a milk refill. I reached down and scooped Julian up for a power cuddle.

I was so tired, it took me a full minute to realize that Julian was soaking wet. It took me another minute that he was wet with urine, not sweat. At least that explained his 4 a.m. wakeup. 

Nathan was so tired, that when I told him about the pee pee leak, he suggested we just strip off the wet clothes and put Julian back into bed sans pajamas. I did not have the energy to explain that if we did that, Julian would probably remove his diaper and defecate all over the place; so I took care of the pajama situation myself.  As much as I dislike staggering across the house for dry pajamas at 4:05 a.m., I would hate cleaning feces off the floor at 4:07 a.m. even more. 

I tucked Julian into bed with a fresh bottle and clean clothes. Then i crawled back into bed. At first, everything was fine. Then I rolled on to my left side to get comfortable. The sheet was wet.

My side of the bed was drenched with pee pee.

By this time, Nathan had fallen back to sleep.  He’s been under siege at work, so I was loathe to wake him. Besides, if I woke him, then i would have to change the sheets, a chore that requires actually having clean sheets.

We did not have any clean sheets. 

We own two sets of sheets for our king size mattress. (I’d brag that I’m a minimalist, but really I’m just cheap.)  Set No. 1 was drenched with urine.  Set No. 2 was crumpled up with the rest of our dirty laundry, because our dryer had been broken for the past week. We were in laundry survival mode. I was more concerned with making sure we had clean underwear than washing the backup sheets.

So what was I going to do?  Strip off the wet sheets and then cover the mattress with towels? That sounded far too ambitious. Besides most of the towels were damp and dirty because, again, broken dryer.

It seemed like as good as any time to quit while i was ahead, roll on to my other side and sleep inches from my son’s urine.

If that’s not parenthood for you, I don’t know what it is.

Postpartum Depression Greeting Card!

You guys, I am so proud of myself! For over a year, I have had the idea to open a Zazzle shop to create various products about maternal mood disorders. First and foremost, I wanted to design a greeting card for new mamas that includes information about mood disorders like postpartum depression. I finally stopped procrastinating and opened my shop. Here’s my first card!

New Mama Postpartum Depression Awareness Card
And here’s the inside of the card:

New Mama Postpartum Depression Awareness Card

The shop has actually been open for a week, but I wanted to have a physical copy of the card before I told you about it. I was worried the quality might be cheap. It’s not! It’s printed on heavy card stock and has the heft and quality of a Hallmark card at your drugstore. Except instead of making some unrealistic claims about the joys of motherhood, this card gets honest!
The card is available RIGHT HERE along with a few other items in my new Zazzle shop. I’ll tell you about those items soon, but for now, I just had to brag about my first official postpartum depression card.

 

Episode 52: Zoloft, Exercise, And Buddhism

Zoloft weaning report: I am down from 50 mg to 25 mg each morning. I was able to make this leap very quickly, but remember, I started weaning off Zoloft almost a year ago, in late December 2016. Overall, I’m down from 150 mg of Zoloft. I’m grateful for how Zoloft helped me kick postpartum depression in the ass, and now I am grateful to nearly be medication-free.

I started talking about the pain of ovulation. That German word I kept using? Mittelschmerz. It really is the perfect word to describe that sudden stab of pain I get when I ovulate.

My psychiatrist urged me to amp up my cardio as I reduce and gradually eliminate Zoloft. I had been doing Zumba but alas, the classes are not working for my schedule anymore. I have returned to cardio at the gym and I’m also doing dance dvd’s at home when Julian is napping. It’s tough for me to get my cardio but it’s an important part of my well-being so I have to make it a priority.

Right now, as I post these show notes, it’s the week after Thanksgiving, and I have not done anything for Christmas.  I love Christmas.  I love the holidays.  But this year, I felt like I needed some space in between the two holidays. I am, however, very appreciative of all my neighbors who have decorations up. 

These days, I’m excited to learn more about Buddhism. I just finished reading When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chödrön and I could not put my highlighter down. It’s not about motherhood or postpartum depression, but I think it would be helpful to anyone making the transition to life with a new baby. Check it out! Maybe it will resonate with you, too.

Top Tips for New Parents’ Mental Health

Dr. Kat, host of the Mom and Mind podcast, complied a fantastic list of tips for new parents. My tip: “Knowledge is power – learn about PMADs before the baby arrives.” But you should definitely check out the other twenty-six tips. They are great for new parents but also relevant to moms and dads who are not so new to this parenting gig.

Check out the entire list right here.

Also: be sure to listen to the Mom and Mind podcast! It’s available on iTunes and all the other places you can find podcasts.

Episode 51: Surviving the Holidays

I recorded this episode on November 13, 2017, and it seemed like a good time to talk some sense about the upcoming holiday season. Or is the word “upcoming” wishful thinking on my part? As far as commerce is concerned, the holiday season has already arrived. I went to the pet store with Julian yesterday, and they were selling a Santa outfit for guinea pigs.

Seriously. A Santa suit for guinea pigs.

Before you go crazy, and think you have to buy a guinea pig, and then get a Santa suit for said guinea pig, let’s get down to Holiday Survival Basics.

YOU HAVE TO MEET YOUR NEEDS FIRST. Your basic needs. Sleep food air warmth.  Are you familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?  It’s a pyramid that represents our needs as humans.  The triangle at the tippy top represents self-actualization. I love self-actualization. That’s where we become our best selves. But before we can reach the top of the pyramid? We need a solid base. Otherwise the whole pyramid collapses on itself.

Maslow places physiological needs at the base. That includes sleep. Babies, god bless them, really batter the shit out of the base of our pyramid. It takes a lot of work, and luck, and sacrifices to the gods of slumber, to get enough sleep. 

Julian, my sweet rambunctious two-year-old, learned how to climb out of his crib recently and so we graduated him to a “big boy bed.” (Translation: twin mattress on the floor.) Now he is waking up early. As in 4:30 in the morning. Waaaaay too early. Nathan and I are taking turns with the morning shift, and damn, this experience has been an excellent reminder as to how important sleep truly is. Today, I got enough sleep. I am patient kind loving creative funny happy empathetic and all sorts of good stuff. Yesterday I was up at 4:30 and felt like a vicious bitchy beast all day. I literally growled at my children.  It was suboptimal. But I’m not going to beat myself up because holy crap, it is hard to do anything but survive if you are not getting enough sleep.

So why am I rambling on about pyramids and sleep? Because like newborns, the holidays muck with our basic needs. With all the commercials and carols, tinsel and traditions, it can start to feel like crafting the perfect wreath is more important than getting a good night’s sleep. It’s not!

Your mental health is everything. Not something. Not anything.  EVERYTHING. If you don’t have your mental health, then how can you even think of enjoying the holidays?

There will be Christmas 2018 and Christmas 2019 and on and on until the end of time. Do what you have to do this year – and every year! – to preserve your mental health. Don’t sacrifice your mental health in order to perfectly wrap baby’s presents. Baby don’t give a shit if the gift wrap coordinates with the bow. (Actually, baby don’t even give a shit about presents.) 

Holidays can get messy because everyone has their own expectations. It’s OK to disappoint someone if their expectations do not work for you this year. Especially if their expectations might damage your mental or even physiological health. 

You can’t manage other people’s expectations. Mainly because those expectations are floating around in their heads and you are not psychic. But even if you are psychic, or even if the people in your life go to great pains to articulate their expectations, you still have to remember the golden rule: YOUR MENTAL HEALTH IS EVERYTHING. It does not matter what your sister or father-in-law expects from the holidays if their expectations interfere with your ability to meet your basic needs. 

But you can manage your expectations. That’s what I’m trying to do this year. Manage my expectations. I started a list the other day on my iPhone. I put “holiday cards” on the list.  That made me realize I also want to take cute photos, which made me realize I also want to craft a cute Advent calendar, which made me get really honest with myself and admit to about thirty other insane expectations.

The list made me realize I’m heading into the holidays with some schemes that will interfere with my sanity. But now that I have made the list, I feel like there is more space in my head.

Next step: I have to show my list to Nathan so he can tell me where I am being insane. Confession: I’m a little afraid to do this because he’s going to get a good look at my crazy Pinterest side.

Before I show my list to Nathan, I’m taking a hard look at it and labeling things as “do-able,” “aspirational” and “societal.”

Christmas cards? I hate making Christmas cards. They stress me out. I only think I have to do them because it’s a societal expectation. And these days, a lot of people skip the cards. So maybe it’s not so much a societal expectation as a pressure generated by all the companies that want my money and create elaborate blog campaigns to convince me that my life will be perfect if only I get the best cutest hippest Christmas cards.

Yeah, I’m not falling for that this year. Christmas cards are getting slashed off my To Do List.

Then there are gingerbread houses. For me, those are aspirational, so I now have a ten year plan to eventually make elaborate houses with my kids. But this year? I will buy kits at Trader Joes and assemble the houses when the kids are asleep. Then, when we are all well-rested and happy, I’ll let the kids go crazy with frosting and candy.

With your list, be sure to listen to your gut and do what works for you. When your gut says one thing, but your head says something else, listen to your gut. 

You don’t need to get good photos. You don’t. The memories and love are there regardless of how many photos you take. By all means, take photos. I love cuddling with my children and flipping through old photos. But we get as much joy from candid shots as we do from staged fancy shoots. Actually, the candid shots are probably more entertaining. I don’t have any awesome Christmas photos from years past and guess what? That’s okay!

If there’s a tradition or expectation driving you crazy, remember: most traditions were started, or at least perpetuated, by someone looking to make a buck. The person selling fancy Christmas trees does not care whether you have a merry Christmas and they certainly aren’t worrying about your mental health. They just want your money.

If you are looking for a book to keep you sane during the holidays, I highly recommend Llama Llama, Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney. I think it is as soothing for mamas as the little llamas.

When things do not go according to plan (and with kids, they rarely do), remember that a little chaos makes for a good story. Stories about the perfect calm holiday meal? Boring. The family story about the year the turkey spontaneously combust? Outstanding!

When all else fails: there’s always next year. 

Episode 50: Starting A Peer Support Group

Episode 50? Woot woot! I probably should have baked a cake, right? I baked a chocolate cake last weekend for Julian’s birthday, so let’s just pretend that cake was also for the podcast.

Thinking of starting a postpartum mom-to-mom support group? Fabulous! These are my top eleven tips. (Ten sounds better, but hey, I thought of eleven.)

1.  If you want to start a mom-to-mom support group, do it!  Don’t worry about the frills and frippery.  You don’t need a website or blog header.  You don’t need to know who your first one hundred members are.  You don’t need a five year plan.  You do not have to be perfect in the beginning.  Your group can and should evolve over time.  Just start.

2.  Do what works for you.  In a perfect world, these groups would be offered in every neighborhood at dozens of different times.  But you are human.  You can’t be everything to everyone.  Pick the time, location, frequency, and logistics that work for YOU so the group is sustainable. 

3.  Lower your expectations.  Moms will RSVP and never show up for a meeting.  There might be weeks (even months) when no one attends.  Be patient and remember: you are helping a tough crowd.  Life with a baby? DIFFICULT.  Nap schedules change without warning.  Babies get sick.  get really excited when a mom makes it to your group, because damn, she worked hard to be there. 

4.  Don’t take anything personally.  I think this is critical for just about everything in life.  I can’t stop talking about The Four Agreements and think it should be required reading for humanity.  If you want to run a mom-to-mom support group, read that book!

But more specifically for running a mom-to-mom support group, some moms will attend and clearly hate the group.  That’s their journey.  It’s not you.  Even if it seems like you, remember, they are dealing with all sorts of emotional and psychological issues. 

5.  Some moms need to attend regularly.  Others need only attend once.

6.  Remember: you are not a mental health professional.  Be sure to mention that to any new moms who attend.

7.  If you have the money, Meetup.com is great.  At least in Pasadena.  But for spreading the word about your group, there’s also Facebook and emailing mom resources directly, e.g. obstetricians, pediatricians, mommy and me classes.   

8.  You are allowed to quit.  I quit when I was pregnant with my second child because hello, I had morning sickness until the day I gave birth.  I knew I could not keep the group going while vomiting all day long.  Know yourself.  Know your limits.  You have to meet your needs before you can meet anyone else’s needs. 

9.  You are allowed to start over if you do quit.  I restarted my group when Julian was about six months old and the second incarnation was even better than the first.  That’s when I committed to a regular time and day and asked The Family Room if I could use their space to host my meetings. 

10.  You are helping people who you never meet.  I promise, you are.  For some moms, just knowing your group exists is a huge relief.  It helps them realize they are not alone.  They need that.  I have dozens of moms whom have never attended my group but signed up for the Meetup, and I know they are helped by the group’s existence. When you start the group, you are fighting the stigma.

11.  You can’t save everyone.

Also: check our Jane Honikman’s books!  They are amazing resources!   I have listed them all below with Amazon links. I did not read these books until after I had started my group, so don’t feel pressure to read them first. (See Tip # 1.) But don’t feel like you have to invent the wheel by yourself.

Jane Honikman’s Books:

Community Support For New Families

I’m Listening: A Guide to Supporting Postpartum Families

Postpartum Action Manual: How to Provide Comfort, Encouragement, and Guidance to New Families

Gluten-Free!

I’ve been gluten-free for about ten days now. In theory, I’m also going “grain-free” but I’m letting myself cheat there a little. Like yesterday, my mom baked pumpkin bread with gluten-free flour. There were some other grains in the mix, but fuck it, I love pumpkin bread. I want to be healthier, but that’s not going to work if I’m expected to abstain from pumpkin bread until the end of time.

I’ve read in various places that grains, especially gluten, can cause depression and anxiety. Well hey now. I have certainly had my share fair of those symptoms. I have quit gluten to lose weight and regain control of my body, but if the GF life boosts my mental health, you will not hear my complaining.

In fact, you’ll probably hear me rejoicing.

I’m just not content with the status quo. I’m at a great place in my life, but I feel like I can do more and feel even more amazing than I do today.

But all in good time. I know me. I can’t overhaul my life in 48 hours and expect it to stick. I have to make changes one by one. That’s why I cut refined sugars in early September and waited five weeks to tackle this GF transition. And that’s why I’m not worrying about my diet soda problem yet. Today I’m cutting gluten and grains. That’s enough. I want to stop drinking soda eventually. I know it’s bad for me. But I also know if I cut soda and gluten at the same time, I will go bat shit crazy and end up eating all the cake in Pasadena.