I Spent Christmas In A Mental Hospital

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sad-christmas Image via Shutterstock

Last week my baby girl turned four. Her long, ultra-fine blond locks hadn’t been trimmed professionally yet, and a new “Sweet and Sassy” beauty salon had recently opened nearby. So she opted for an experience over a present from Mommy and Daddy and on her birthday I took her for the princess haircut and updo, complete with sparkle hairspray and glitter heart tattoo to finish off the royal treatment.

She loved every minute of it.

Almost as much as the special-request “Pink and Purple Elsa Heart party,” similar, yet slightly different than every other little girl birthday party we attended this year. Grandma came through with a beautiful homemade birthday cake in the shape of a heart with purple and pink pastel icing and Elsa and Anna candles on top.

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One day I’ll explain to her why Mommy gets choked up when we play Demi Lovato’s version of Let It Go from the ipad.

It’s all so close to real life for me.

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Nine years ago I spent Christmas in a mental hospital.

At 26, mental illness struck me without a warning, and it left my entire family with an excruciating sense of helplessness and an overwhelming fear for my future.

What would happen to my marriage? Would I be able to go back to work? Would I ever have a normal life again?

We all hid behind a veil of secrecy, speaking in whispers even when it was just us at home. As if we couldn’t let the outside world find out. That something bad might happen if they knew I had Bipolar disorder. The shame penetrated my bones. Made me muffle my sobs with my pillow at night.

Why me?

Life became an unbearable burden. I didn’t know how I was ever going to pick up the pieces of my shattered life and move forward. How could I live with this illness, this secret? I wanted to give up because it would be less painful that way.

I lived the “conceal, don’t feel” mantra with friends and extended family. I was terrified of being different, being labled, being judged.

Yet no matter how much I tried to censor my side of conversations, there was something deep inside of me urging me to share my trauma. Something told me that releasing the repressed emotional anguish would be therapeutic. It’s hard to be whole and keep a secret. So I stopped hiding. I let it go. I shared my story with my friends and with the world on my blog.

That was when everything changed.

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Not every winter holiday season will be magical and glittering and full of joy. Some may pass without any celebration because instead you’re in a mental hospital. And when the shock of it all is over, and medicine leads to recovery, we can breathe a sigh of relief and take the first step towards true healing by letting it go. Christmas will never be the same for me because I’m not the same person who entered that hospital.

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If I’ve learned anything from living these past nine years with bipolar disorder, I’ve learned that no one is perfect. We all have our struggles, our guarded secrets. But ever since sharing the story of my illness almost two years ago, I’ve seen my relationships grow to depths I didn’t know were possible. I have richer, more meaningful relationships with the important people in my life, and have developed many new friendships as a result of being able to talk about the tough stuff I’ve overcome.

When we reveal our scars and imperfections, we set ourselves free. The door to our hurting hearts can only be unlocked from the inside. As hard as it is to pick up the key and turn it in the lock, the result will be worth the effort.

This month it’s my prayer that if you’re going through darkness amid the glittery lights of the holidays, know that it’s okay and you can find your way back to the light. Remember to not let yourself be held prisoner by your secrets. Know that help is out there and when we open ourselves up to others and let go of the shame, we’re able to allow love to flow in and heal.

Related post: The Cloud of Depression

15 Ways I Embrace Mediocre Motherhood

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1. The food in the bottom of the highchair seat is called “appetizers”.

2. The hardened French fries in the car seat are baby toys. You’ve heard of the “don’t text and drive campaign.” This is part of the “don’t rummage through your purse for baby snacks/entertainment and drive” movement. It’s about safety.

3. The underwear in my son’s pant leg was actually strategically placed there in case he has an accident at school.

4. Old bottles of milk under the couch are part of an experiment. We are trying new recipes to make our own butter and cheeses! I would imagine you need a cool, dark place to accomplish this.

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5. They aren’t “fighting.” They are exploring the limitlessness of brotherhood in a physical way.

6. I don’t lock the bathroom door to get away from my children. Heavens, no! I lock it so I can hear them pounding on the door while I’m in there so I know where they are and that they are safe.

7. The hairpins, thumbtacks and batteries are in the couch cushions because, obviously, this is the last place the kids look. I suppose you keep those types of objects in high places? Well, my kids hurt themselves falling off of chairs trying to reach dangerous objects in high places.

8. Baby locks? We don’t use baby locks on cabinets anymore. They use those as weapons.

9. Of course I’m a little tired. We have a strict “only one person allowed to sleep at a time” rule in this household, and the kids (and husband) get dibs.

10. I leave clean laundry in a pile on the floor for at least 24 hours because I read somewhere that this allows the fabric to breathe. You’ve heard of sitting a bottle of wine uncorked on the counter, or letting meat rest after cooking? Same thing.

11. Yes, sometimes I have been known to let the baby eat off the floor. It builds up his immunity and does wonders for his skin, hair and nails.

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12. My son is out in public with only one shoe because it part of this really cool game called the “Lose one shoe while out on various errands, then go back over all the places you’ve already been to find said shoe” scavenger hunt. This game is really fun if you have a good sense of humor and are not prone to violent outbursts.

13. That is not soap scum on my shower door. It is a homemade “faux frosted” glass décor.

14. Mint-flavored, sugar-free candy is in fact not bad for their teeth, and it soothes minor tummy discomfort while freshening breath.

15. You call it bribery. I call it positive reinforcement behavior training.

Related post: Shout Out to the World’s Okayest Moms

I’m Not Sure I Want Kids

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“I’m not sure I want kids,” the twenty-something nanny said to me at the park as she watched her charges go berserk. I opened my mouth to try to reassure her in some way, but then my own baby started to go nuts and I had my hands full. By the time things had calmed down for me, the nanny had left with a frazzled look on her face.

Another twenty-something woman said to me while we were having coffee, “I’m not sure I want kids. I just finished my master’s degree. I love my new job. I don’t want to give up my career.” Since I’m an opt-out stay at home mom, I opened my mouth to reassure her, only to snap it shut. As I was sipping my coffee playing the housewife role, I felt like I was watching my career go down the toilet. Who was I to say anything?

When I myself was a twenty-something, I had also thought, I’m not sure I want kids. There is a mixed message out there that says, “Having kids is great, but it seriously sucks.”

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I put off baby making until I started feeling the pressure, but remained nervous. Why would I want to voluntarily do something that looks so hard? Aren’t these little monsters energy suckers, time suckers, money suckers, and career killers? Did I really want to give up my glamorous DINK (double income no kids) status?

When the baby came, I did give up a lot. I walked away from a corporate career that paid me well, fed my ego, and offered a lot of fun. I gave up my high heels and pretty clothes, my nights out, and vacations. I saw my income go down and our expenses go up. And a few times I thought, I’m not sure I want a kid… but it’s too late.

Now that things have calmed down, and I’ve learned a few things about having a child, I finally have an answer for those twenty-something women. If you’ve thought that perhaps you don’t want kids, too, here are some benefits to consider:

1. You are part of a family. Not the family your parents created when they had you. The family you create when you bring a little baby into the world. You will have a deeper sense of belonging than ever before.

2. DINK couples won’t look so glamorous anymore. At some point, instead of yearning for those nights out, you’ll love your nights in. These are the opportunities to be together as a family to cuddle, laugh, and play. While you will relish the occasional date night, nothing will compare to the memories you make at home.

3. You’ll laugh a lot more. Whether it’s in relief, or because your baby once again broke a major social code, like farting as loud as an adult, you will laugh a lot.

4. Babies teach you to slow down. When your baby pulls on your pant leg to get your attention as you wash dishes, you will realize that the dishes can wait. You’ll stop what you are doing and hug that little person who wants nothing more than you.

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5. Things that were once important fade into the background. Giving up that corporate career. Not going on that vacation. Skipping that crazy night out. You’ll realize you wouldn’t trade in your kid to have those things back.

6. Age is what robs you of your rocking good looks, not having babies. As soon as you graciously accept that, being pregnant and then sleep deprived doesn’t seem quite  so scary.

Now when a twenty-something says to me, “I’m not sure I want kids,” my response is fast and simple. I say, “No matter what you decide it will be okay. But…there are some definite perks to this parenting gig.”

Related post: Things You Don’t Really Know About Kids Until You Have Kids

Dear Soon-To-Be Big Brother or Sister

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little-boy-king

Dear Soon-To-Be Big Brother or Sister,

I heard the shocking and terrible news that your parents are replacing you with another baby. Grown-ups call this “having a sibling,” but don’t be fooled by that fancy language. They ordered a newer model of baby. A Baby 2.0. And where does that leave you? Out of a crib, my friend.

Remember that you’re still the king of your house (Although, are you really a king? Please review the above photo and ask yourself who is wearing the crown. Hint: It’s me).

Let’s assume that you really are royalty in your own house. Your future little brother or sister won’t care about that because babies have no respect for power at all. They don’t even watch Game of Thrones.

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And babies are needy, my friend. Needy! Even newer model babies, who you would think could be programmed to care for themselves at this point. Darwin should have talked to Steve Jobs, all I’m sayin’.

Me, I’ve already told my parents that under no circumstances will I be open to having another baby living in our house. They always respect my wishes, which is why I am allowed to eat a sweet syrup from an eyedropper every morning (*Vitamin D*). It’s like breakfast in bed.

Listen toddlers, I can help you. It’s not too late. The baby isn’t here yet so your parents can still change their minds about allowing this intruder into your family. It’s your job to remind them just how very off-putting babies can be. That’s your job, the way it’s your parents job to make you feel happy and to always cater to your every whim even if your mom is very nauseous from the intruder.

Here are my tips:

  • Pretend your legs are pieces of yarn. Yarn cannot stand up and neither can you.
  • If you get tired of being yarn become a steel rod. Pretend the steel rod is in your back every time someone tries to get you into a car seat. Steal rods DO NOT BEND under any circumstance. DO NOT BEND is your new mantra.
  • Become colicky. I don’t care that you’re too old for that. Desperate times, my friend.
  • Eat more carrots than you can reasonably handle. Feel out your limit, approach your limit, then press past your limit. Expel the carrots aggressively through any exit you prefer. Do this a few times a week with different vegetables.
  • Hide an alarm clock in your crib and set it to go off every 30 minutes. This alarm will remind you to wake up your parents by whatever means necessary. Sure you won’t get a good night’s sleep either, but you have to dig deep. Crying is fine, but banging your fists on the side of the crib is an unorthodox but effective method to distress your mom and dad. Don’t hurt yourself in this process, your parents are already hurting you by upgrading to Baby 2.0.

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  • Try not to be cute. This will be difficult because you have a naturally appealing look. I’m not coming on to you, I’m just stating the facts. You can play down your looks by smearing foods on your face and refusing to smile, even when something awesome happens like you see a farm animal.
  • Scream at a pitch only dogs can hear whenever you see another baby. Hold the scream for a count of 50 Mississippis. Then vomit. Repeat every time you see a baby, even one on tv.

Good luck toddlers.

Sincerely,

Your brother in diapers

8 Stroller Habits That Piss Off The Entire World

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Strollers are a necessary evil, especially if you have more than one rug-rat to haul around. While strollers are excellent child containment units, they are large, heavy and annoying to everyone else besides the person pushing them. We all have those spacey moments when someone has to say “excuse me” to jog you out of your sleep deprivation induced fog and get you to move. It happens to the best of us. But some parents go beyond having a momentary lapse of judgment here or there. These repeat offenders think of the stroller as a person, with feelings to insult and rights to defend. Don’t be this person. Avoid these stroller habits so the people around don’t hate you:

1. Not closing your stroller in a crowded restaurant. Sorry to burst your bubble, but your baby isn’t too good for a highchair. If this place doesn’t have them, maybe it’s not the right venue for a meal with a baby. Not only are you making it difficult for servers to navigate around you, your stroller may actually be a fire hazard. Don’t get all bent out of shape if a tray full of cola mares your custom cream colored fabric, seat snob.

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2. Hitting people in the back of the ankles. Unless the injured party insulted you or your offspring, this is painfully bad manners.

3. Blocking the view at the zoo for other kids. There’s no such thing as VIP seating at the monkey exhibit. If you’re at a crowded public place like the zoo or aquarium, either take your kid out of the stroller and hold them like the rest of us common folk or pull your stroller back so smaller kids can step up to the glass. Repeat after me- it’s a stroller, not a chariot.

4. Refusing to fold it on a crowded bus. I know, it’s hard to fold a stroller while juggling the baby and the diaper bag and Mr. Bear. Everyone watches you struggle and no one offers to help. Those people suck. Still, be the bigger person. Fold the stroller.

5. Using your stroller as a walker. You know who you are, draped over the handles like a damp T-shirt and moving so slowly that an inchworm just passed you. Your stroller is not that heavy, so spare me the dramatics and move over before I accidentally on purpose hit you in the back of the ankles with my own monster double jogger.

6. Knocking store displays over. The holiday season draws near, meaning there will soon be even more displays to navigate around in Target. On behalf of retail workers everywhere I beg you- if it looks like a tight squeeze, don’t try it.

7. Taking up the entire sidewalk. Your conversation with Jill about why you and Kate don’t talk anymore ever since you joined the PTA is not important enough to justify holding up other people. And I know darn well you can hear me sighing. Get over yourself and recognize that you’re in the wrong.

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8. Using your stroller as a glorified shopping cart. Strollers are for babies. Or sometimes for cats. They are not for pushing around your mall swag or holding your huge mom purse. If Junior wants to get out for a bit and roam free, fine, but if you’ve got your real baby in an Ergo and a phantom baby under those grocery bags, I’m giving you the side eye.

Related post: 10 Things You Really Don’t Need For Baby

This piece first ran on Mommyish. Read more here