Feelin’ Fine (2018)

‘ So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key’ *

In mid 2016 I started on Lithium Bicarbonate (again!) for my mental illness: Bipolar 1.  If you have read my previous posts on body image and on mental illness, you will know by now that I was struggling against succumbing to meds due to the strong suspicion that taking them would cause a large weight gain.

Well, it has done just that. My body now is the stuff of my previous life’s nightmares.  So, why is this post entitled Feelin’ Fine? Confused yet?

Well, I have changed folks.

It started when I hit rock bottom in May 2016.  I had extreme anxiety for days and a panic attack that rocked my world and I was sure I was about to die.  I could barely let go of my husband Dean’s hand.  All I could do to feel better was walk, and poor Dean, suffering with a broken toe, walked with me, holding my hand. (Ya, I know. I have the best husband in the world.)  If you had seen me then you would not recognize me.  I was barely able to look up.  I was debilitated.  The cortisol buildup in my low back was like a knife jabbing me.  Every thought spun out a new list of worries that multiplied.  I clutched Dean’s hand and he guided me gently along through the days.  I did simple tasks like pealing potatoes and hanging laundry.  That’s about all I could do without making copious, confusing lists and notes.

This was the point that I finally succumbed to medication.

Since then, I decided that it is far better to have a clear mind and psyche than it is to be small and trim.

img_1594
By my amazing sister Eva*

 

This has not been an instantaneous transformation.  It has taken hours and hours of concerted effort and two years of time going by to change my thinking.  I am doing this by reading books, blogs, articles, scientific studies and by listening to podcasts on this very topic…non-diet, body-neutral, non-fat phobic, Health at Every Size, Intuitive Eating by podcasters like Christy Harrison on Food Psych; Meret Boxler on Life Unrestricted; Chris Sandel on Real Health Radio; Summer Innanen on Fearless Rebelle Radio.  These people have helped me immeasurably.  As has my husband of twenty-six years.  He is truly my best, most supportive friend.

It hasn’t been exactly easy to transform my thinking one hundred and eighty degrees.  From a very disordered existence of constant striving to maintain a small, lean body where in almost every waking moment over the last 35 years, I was aware, concerned, worried about eating less and moving more (it was a full-time job to maintain the energy deficit that then felt normal).  I mean, I was eating low-fat while trekking in the Himalayas while simultaneously battling a bowel parasite for jeezus sakes.

Scan10100

I have become more peaceful by NOT doing anything to try to stay small.  I eat when hungry, whatever I want.  I drink when thirsty.  I move when it strikes my fancy to do so.  No schedule.  No goals.  No competitive work-out sessions.  No marathon-type activity in the off-ing to compulsively train for.  No $60 ++ per week of yoga classes, plus thousands of dollars for months of yoga teacher training at an ashram in the Bahamas (which in retrospect I now realize that I had done not to achieve Zen but mostly to achieve small-ness.  It was like going to a Fat Farm for me.  Okay, a Zen Fat Farm, if you will).

dancer on the fallen tree

I look back on my previous life and shake my head.  But it is all part of my path.

And, who cares if I am not small in size.  I am still ME.

My being is still here.  My me-ness.

You know me?  That person who loves an adventure;

a good doubling-over belly laugh;

a deep talk solving the problems of the world, including what to do with your hair;

a great beach walk or rainy-day stroll;

a carefree dance around the living room or in a random cafe to some good eighties tunes,

a pint and a good cry????

That person is still here and that person is doing okay.  She’s just in a bigger, softer body and she is doing much, much better on the inside, and, thankfully, not doing those annoying hand-stands every five minutes.

prospect-handstand

One last one for the memory bank.  My son took this in Prospect, Nova Scotia, Canada.  The next time I asked him to take a picture of me doing a hand-stand was on the Keji Seaside beach, he goes, ‘Mom, that ship has sailed, don’t you think?’

Right on Buddy.  Gotta love kids.

+++++++

I would love your comments…

(The sunflower pic is from Google Images, all the rest are mine, Martha Valiquette, except the amazing Dragonfly which is by my eldest sister.)

*Excerpt from Already Gone (Eagles) Songwriters: Jack Tempchin / Robert Arnold Strandlund

Crazy Train 🚂 part 3- Home-ish (2011)

I would ask total random strangers to look into my eyes and see the flecks. The flecks are magic, I would say.

Continued from Crazy Train Part 2

My husband, Dean flew to Toronto to meet me and take me home to Nova Scotia.   He had arranged for his eldest sister from Newfoundland to come and stay with us for a couple of weeks tohelp out with Leo (again!) while I was sure to be in the hospital and Dean would be running back and forth watching out for me and bringing me what I wanted. Manic me was very demanding (unlike normal me). Ha ha.

The saddest thing about this whole story is that it could’ve been completely avoided if I had been fine with taking lithium. But, at that point in my journey, and because of my disordered eating and body image problems, and knowing that lithium causes me weight gain, I refused, absolutely, to take it. So, you would think I preferred the option of going crazy over getting fat.  And that I selfishly ruined everyone’s Cuban vacation because of my issues with food and body image.  Crazy train anyone?

In the hospital they put me on extremely strong medications: anti-psychotics, lithium, antibiotics for the bronchitis and a sleeping aid. I was a walking zombie.  I was extremely ill in the hospital and very upset to be on medication and to be tied down. The nurses constantly told me to go to my room and get some sleep. But when one is manic all one wants to do is relate and connect to others. Even though I was a walking zombie, it was still very difficult for me to sleep more than a couple of hours at a time. As a manic person, medications have very little effect compared to what they would on a regular person.  One side-effect of the anti-psychotic drug was the feeling that my skin was crawling. It was one of the worst feelings I have ever encountered.

When the nurses wouldn’t pay attention to me I found ways to entertain myself.  I would walk past the nurses station window where a few nurses would be quietly working with their heads down and I would SLAM my hand against the glass.  The nurses would jump from fright as I quickly walked away.  I was sure they had no idea that it was me. One evening, I decided to pull the fire alarm. Obviously this was a serious infraction which, at the time, I didn’t understand.  The nurses scrambled to get all the patients out of the rooms, I snickered with my hand over my mouth, by the wall. I was then noticed, yelled at and put in solitary.

What  I did next seems unbelievable now that I have my sanity back. I truly believe they would never let me out of that room. A half hour may have a lapsed  when I realized two things: I had to use the bathroom, #2, and, I was very thirsty. Because I truly believed that they would not come back for me, and  I was firmly ensconced in cra-cra land, I went over to the corner of the room,  squatted and pooped. Then I started to bang my cup on the door saying that I was dying of thirst. An idea emerged: I would have to drink my own urine in order to stay alive.

It was salty.

Next I started to sing at the top of my lungs and trust me, that little solitary room had great acoustics  (this is a Kris Kristofferson song that Willie Nelson sings so well) and quite apt at parts…

Take the ribbons from your hair, shake ’em lose and let ’em fall. Let ’em fall against your chin, like the shadows on the wall.  Come and lay down by my side in the early morning light, all I’m taking is your time…help me make it through the night…(This is where I would seriously belt it out) Well, I don’t care whose right or wrong, and I won’t try to understand.  Let the devil take tomorrow, cause tonight I need a friend….it’s sad to be alone…help me make it through the night

I knew that whole song by heart because Mom used to play it over and over again when she and Dad were separated but living in the same house. I was in extreme discomfort in the solitary room. My thoughts where racing. My skin was crawling. My mind was blowing. There was no sleep in sight. I could not stay still. Psychosis is shitty.  Truly.

Finally they let me out. I gladly went to my room. My next plan was to escape and run home.

I studied the delivery door to the locked psych ward. Suddenly, I saw my chance to escape into the February night and I was GONE.  Hightailing it through the lobby with my ass hanging out of my johnny coat, with my SmartWool knee socks and Birkenstocks on out into the parking lot, down the concrete steps, turn right down the hill, turn left, through the intersection and starting up the hill. Suddenly I realized how cold I was and that my feet were freezing. Later I found out it was -20°C. If I had gone the wrong way and landed in the snowbank, behind the hospital, I may never have been rescued from the cold.

As it was, two older ladies in a large sedan pulled up beside me as I made my way up the hill. Seeing how I was dressed and with my hospital wristband on, they asked me to get in the car with them for a ride. I must have thought that would be a good idea. Even through the haze of psychosis I knew that my safety was threatened. I ran into the parking lot of the Catholic Church (irony on that not lost on me) and they let me get in the car to get warm. Next they locked the doors and called the police who escorted me back to the psych ward  and back into solitary.

When Dean heard that I had escaped, in my condition, dressed in a tiny cotton johnny coat, he was furious at the hospital.

I was in for two weeks then out for week at which point I stopped taking the medications and became manic again.  So, I was back in for another two weeks.  It takes about two weeks for the lithium to take effect.  When I was home with my family and dog Lady, and I was out of my head in cra-cra land, I could swear that I knew what she was ‘saying’.  I would look at her and her ‘words’ would pop into my head.  Ooookay.

Mental illness is a real thing, not to be trifled with.

Lady Jane, 2 years old

Crazy Train 🚂 part 1…All ABOARD (2010)

The stress of a kitchen renovation then subsequent bronchitis throws me into a psychotic episode while in Cuba…

I had my Birkenstocks and  SmartWools on and with my big-ass undies peeking out of my johnny coat, I saw my chance to escape. Out the psych ward’s normally locked door I slipped, down the hall and through the big front doors. I was  running home. It was a dark, -20, winter night but if I could just run the 15 k home, all would be well…

You see, I was in the midst of my second ever full blown psychotic episode of Bipolar-1, my first ever had happened in postpartum in 1999.  It was now 2010 and I had enjoyed perfect mental and physical health for eleven years.

Then, we decided (cue ominous music here)…to move house and shortly thereafter to completely gut and renovate the kitchen and that’s when the shit hit the fan…and, it wasn’t pretty.

We had moved into our little bungalow which is in an idyllic location in our beloved town.  It is close to everything and sits between two parks and just up from the dyke lands.  The street is short and quiet with a handful of unique homes on it and quiet owners who mostly stick to themselves.  I adored this new little house, which is all we needed for the three of us and our large dog.

The previous owner (whom I strangle in my imagination every time I catch sight of him) had, however, sadly, let if fall into disrepair and become outdated.  We had our hands full when we moved in.  The old harvest-gold carpet in the living-room stunk like stale Guinness.  We ripped it out the first night.

Open the dryer and door fell off.

Door knobs and cabinet knobs were missing.

Huge pink toilets ran for hours after flushing.

Every window screen was torn.

Faucets dripped.

Paint was chipping on the exterior.

The ancient dishwasher didn’t work.

The fan above the oven exhausted into your face.  Not pleasant.

The windows were full of black gunk around the edges.

There was black mold on the main bath ceiling.

The ensuite shower stall had a serious microbiome going on.

Run the washer and the water drained into the kitchen sink and then onto the kitchen floor.

You get the idea.

Everything was broken!!!

And the owner had been a professional, a PHd!!!!!  (I’m a ProFESSional, as Dad would say so that everyone would know that he knew everything about everything.  One time, in the eighties, on a road trip to Florida, he had corrected a local waitress, serving tables in her own home-town, about a fact about her home-town that there was no way in hell he could have known to be true –there was no internet nor cell phones nor wifi then.  He waved his thumb at he and his new wife saying, Honey Baby, we’re both teachers.  Luke and I were stunned and mortified at his audacity.  We would have liked to slip under the table to hide our embarrassment and very red faces while we cringed.  Years later we just chuckle about it.  It was a trait of our father that was oh so irksome.  The only thing Dad knew everything about was hockey.  Every stat. Every player. Every game.  It was truly fascinating when he got going.)

I digress.

The kitchen in our new bungalow was completely substandard.  Popcorn ceiling (stucco ceiling in a kitchen!  Imagine.)  Tiny, rotting windows.  Single sink in rotting cabinet. Dark wooden cupboards and doors.  Ancient washer and dryer, both missing knobs, right in the kitchen.  The wall behind the lint-bomb of a dryer was crumbling and one of the wires to the 220 v outlet was bare.  Throw a lit match back there and the place would go up.  One teeny light fixture with a tiny fluorescent bulb that would flicker ad naseum while I tried to chop veggies for supper and no other task lighting to speak of.  It was depressingly bad and needed to be fixed.  People had warned us that kitchen renovations can be stressful. Oh Lord. We really should have listened.

After much shopping around for contractors and planning and budgeting, the day came for demolition.  The idiot who decided to take down our old popcorn ceiling, for some inexplicable reason, did not seal off the room to the rest of the house.  I arrived home from work to find a scene out of a post apocalyptic nuclear snow storm: about 3 feet of vermiculite on our kitchen floor and buddy (the idiot) shoveling it into plastic bags to get rid of it.  He had no face mask on and all of the fibers were floating around the whole house.  My first thought to accompany my racing pulse and rapid breathing was: Holy shit.  That could be asbestos.  Next I calmly asked the idiot when he thought he would have it cleaned up.  Next I ran like a devil to find Dean and to get Leo from school.  My friend who is both a Master Electrician and a Master Plumber (and whom I had hired for the job) was my next call.  He calmly told me to get on the internet and find a place that could test a sample of the vermiculite.  He told me there are two types of vermiculite. One with and one without asbestos.

I was in luck.  A scientist working in Halifax lived in the Valley and did vermiculite testing on the side.  He told me to put a baggie of the stuff in his mailbox in Canning and he would have an answer to me the next day.  He said there was a fifty fifty chance it was asbestos.  I asked him what would have to happen if it WAS asbestos.  He said quite simply, ‘you’d be forced to move out until it was all abated.  The place would be off limits.’  Oh jesus…

Stress and more stress.

The next day I received his email.  It was NOT asbestos.  I had not slept the previous night. We paid the idiot and fired him and that did not go well.  Next I heard that he beats up his wife.  This is a small town.  I did not wish to run into him again.  Especially if I was by myself.  I hardly slept and when I did, it was the idiot who was in my nightmares. A cough had developed and was getting worse.

So, the stress and the interrupted sleep began.  With Bipolar disorder, sleep disruptions and sleep deprivation cause or exacerbate the symptoms of the disorder rapidly.  So does stress.  I was not on medication then and in hind-sight, I truly wish I had been.

After the idiot was fired, the work on the reno started to come together nicely.  I would work alongside my skilled and talented friend and we would chuckle the day away.  I would just do things like retrieve parts from his van or the hardware store or screw this in, screw that in, move this, hold this…you get the idea. My cough worsened and would wake me up several times a night.

At some point, I went to the doctor and was told I had developed bronchitis.  I asked about my sleep interruptions and he explained that when I went into a coughing fit, my body produced the hormone adrenaline.  The adrenaline would soar through my body and stop my sleep.  Uh oh.  It was  thought that the soaring hormones in postpartum, as well as the difficulty and length of the birth,  and resultant sleep deprivation,  had caused my first psychotic episode.

Up next…Crazy Train part 2 – Cuba

Make Work Your Favorite (1971 – 1986)

‘Make work your favorite, that’s your new favorite, okay? Work is your new favorite.’
~Elf, The Movie

I bet I was the only ten-year-old kid who knew that the address of The Toronto Star was 1 Yonge Street, Toronto.  I knew this piece of completely useless information because at the tender age of five years old, I had a paper route – The Toronto Star.  I exaggerate slightly.  The route was actually my older brother’s but, I had been given the responsibility of delivering a single paper to one out-of-the-way customer:  Mrs. Wilson– about ten doors north of our house.  I got paid a hefty 5 cents per week for this.  It was much to my embarrassment though, when the phone would ring while all nine of us were ensconced at the supper table and Mom would look at me and say, Martha, did you deliver your paper?  Invariably I had forgotten.  I would have been too busy at play to think of it.  I had to then drop my fork and run off with Mrs. Wilson’s paper.  As the years went by I was given more and more of the route to deliver and customers to collect from and one day I found that the whole route was mine – handed down from Matt to Mark to Job and finally, to me.

The Saturday Star was so heavy that, in order for me to be able to deliver all the papers from one load, I had to lug the bag to the top of our front, concrete stoop.  I would sit on the third step and back into the head-sling of the loaded paper bag and then, leaning way over until my nose was almost touching the ground, I would stagger forward and allow the full weight of the bag to sit on my back. Not a parent-figure in site to worry about me injuring my neck.  I often wondered how badly off I would be if I were to just fall the wrong way?  Or, if I were to stumble, out-of-control onto the street, would the car that hit me be damaged by the sack of papers on my back or would I just simply be crushed beneath them?

Most of my paper route, thankfully, was in an eight-story apartment building, just down the hill from us that we imaginatively called, ‘The Apartments’.   When I was still quite little, I wasn’t able to reach the buttons for the seventh and eighth floors on the elevator’s button panel.  Alas, I had the ultimate solution.  I would lumber into the elevator and somehow drop my paper bag off my head, without wrenching my wee neck, and stand on the full paper bag in order to reach the button for the top floor.  I would then deliver the papers on the descending floors, using the heavy bag to hold the elevator door open as I progressed.  When the bag was no longer heavy enough to hold the elevator door open, I would carry the bag, deliver the papers and then take the flight of stairs down to the next floor. The whole process was quite an art.

My career as an earner started then.  I was a papergirl until I was 15.  I started to baby-sit at the age of 12.  I worked as a bus-girl at The Crock & Block Restaurant at the age of 15 while living with my sister Eva.  I then had various serving jobs: Lafayette, O’Toole’s, Silky’s, and July’s Restaurant for five summers until joining the army at 19. Dad did not believe in giving us an allowance.  We had to earn everything we ever got.

It was at Fancy’s in Barrie that I experienced working for the most dysfunctional couple of crazy people I have ever encountered.  I hated working there because of it and dreaded each shift.  Tom, the chief cook and owner would SCREAM at his wife, Darlene all the live long day:  BUTTER RIGHT TO THE EDGE OF THE BREAD FOR FUCK SAKES! RIGHT TO THE FUCKIN’ EDGE!!! AND GET IT OUT HOT!!! YOU BLOODY STUPID BITCH.  Oh Lord did I detest that place.  The tension should have been on the menu because it was the most abundant item they produced. I just now googled the place.  It is still open.  Unbelievable.  The food was good fairly good though, unfortunately.

Why work there?  I was in grade 12 and needed a job.  My sister Amy had helped me get the job through a friend of a friend and I was ever so grateful.  Amy always had so many connections made through her work as a hairstylist. By this time, Mom was living in a tiny apartment with her alcoholic boyfriend and working as a server for minimum wage at cafeteria-style restaurant in Woolworth downtown.  I would go visit her and she would look so tired.  So worn out.  Oh god.  It would break my heart. This was her reality after raising seven children and keeping a wonderful home for us for 26 years.  She did not come out of the divorce nor the annulment well. I could not ask her for a penny.  She worked so hard and made so little.

At that time, my younger brother and I had a bedroom each in the basement of our bungalow and Dad was upstairs. I had been getting a couple of shifts per week at O’Toole’s Roadhouse Restaurant, but, it went bankrupt and it wasn’t long before I was without money.  One particular day, having spent my savings, I had to ask Dad for money for necessities: menstrual pads.

He turned my down.  He would not give me five bucks for pads.  I was seething.  I hated him.

I was forced to use cotton t-shirts cut into rags.  Nice.  God I hated him.  It was incredible how much I hated him.  I feel that hatred even now, decades later.  And not giving me money, when he had plenty of money, for necessities, was just one of his many faults.  The others were worse. Like when he would come barging into my room, even though my door was closed, and catch me half-dressed or naked but with the old sorry, sorry.  I didn’t know you were dressing.  Or he would forcibly hold me down and lick my face with his very wet, gross, warm tongue – his bad breath washing over me as I would struggle — I just want to give my daughter a little kiss.  Or, he would comment on my developing body you’re getting rather hippy, Martha, you better watch it, you don’t want to get fat.  Or, he would routinely reach out and touch my bum as I would be walking past him and then exclaim yippee in a falsetto voice.  Then there were the many times his robe would mysteriously open and there would be hairy, wrinkled member for all to see.  Oh god.  I would be mortified when he would inevitably do this with teen-aged Kelly and Sally visiting.  Show us his penis, by accident, of course, and then giggle about it as he would sneak away back to his fart-stinking room.

With all that I have read, learned and experienced in life regarding body image (see The Body Positive 🙃) and now as a parent, here is one truism: never comment on a child’s body except to say how lucky we are to have one that does so much for us.  Our body is truly a marvel which should be loved, respected, adorned, nourished, cleaned, clothed and loved some more.

So, my relationship with Dad was love / hate for sure.  At times I would love him for his silliness and his zest for life and enthusiasm about certain topics: sport, recreation, small business, celebration.  Dad loved to laugh.  He would often have us all in stitches at the supper table, recounting his Skollard Hall days in a falsetto voice.  He liked that falsetto voice.  I do truly think he was doing his best to father us the best way he could, considering the factors at play in his upbringing and his generation and with the added factor of the Catholic guilt monitoring all that he did.  Another factor in the break down of his marriage was mental illness.

Mom had been a classic Bipolar 1 (Definition: A person with bipolar 1 will experience a full manic episode usually leading to psychosis).  When she was pregnant or nursing, which was a lot of the time until she was 42 and weened Luke, she did not have symptoms of mental illness.  But, then it hit and it hit hard.  She was hospitalized with full on psychosis several times in the seventies.  I remember waking up around age six and walking around looking for mom.  No one would tell me that she had been taken to the hospital: 5C – the psyche ward. (Who would know then that in thirty years time, I would have my first big struggle with mental illness: Locked Up in D.C. 🔐 )   She was there for weeks.  We would go visit her and it was like she was a different person.  She was in a fog.  It was heart wrenching.  I missed her so badly. I just wanted my mommy back.  I would cry myself to sleep missing her so much. She would sometimes be smoking when we visited.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  (Back then you could smoke in parts of the hospital.)

In the summer, at the lake, Mom would become more and more manic.  Her manic energy was put to good use with cleaning and maintaining the ten cabins of The Camp ⛺️that we moved to every summer.  Lock, stock and barrel, all nine of us would move two hours North to the camp and live on the lake all summer – running the tourist resort – as it used to be known.  It was truly beautiful there: 21 forested acres, half-mile of lake frontage, only 2 miles from a village for supplies, ten antique, rustic cabins on private lots with tall trees, most cabins on the water with their own dock and a sandy beach.

Jaden and frog

For many years we even had a diving tower and trampoline over the water.  Dad’s idea.  Dad being a teacher, had envisioned the need for a business and an escape from the city. (We would have killed each other staying in the city all summer.  No doubt about it.) It was pure genius and is one of those things I loved about my Dad.  He had these great ideas at times.  We enjoyed idyllic summers – running around barefoot, swimming, boating, water-skiing, canoeing and socializing with all the campers.  Yes, we had work and chores, but, we were paid for them as a business expense and it was just a couple of hours a day.  Our summers at the camp were the envy of my friends.  In fact, many of my friends would come to the camp, either to stay with us in the office or as paying guests and stay in a cabin or tent.

Marti-fish.bmp (2)
Martha’s first fish, age 3.

 

I remember waking up early to find mom’s twin bed empty.  She would already be out there working.  Dad was much more sedentary.  He would do all of the business-end of things: letters, bills, payments, promotions.  All this to say, that mom’s mental illness was raging on, unchecked for several years.  From reading I have done, because I too am bipolar 1 (Crazy Train 🚂 (part 1)…All ABOARDCrazy Train 🚂 (part 2) ) the more episodes there are the more easily an episode will occur.  The brain makes these pathways that become easier and easier to follow and so sanity slips further and further away.  So, to be fair, it could not have been easy dealing with this major impediment.  When Mom finally went on lithium, and stayed on lithium, things were so much better.  She was stable.  Stable is good.

***

I wasn’t the first in my family to work at July’s Restaurant up at the Lake.  My older sister Eva had worked there a decade prior to me.  Eva would sometime recount one of her most embarrassing moments while working there.  This man would come into the restaurant almost daily.  He would take a seat beside the coffee maker in the kitchen in the mid-afternoon when it wasn’t too busy.  He would just sit and chat up the kitchen staff and the servers as they would come and go from the kitchen.  So, Eva walks into the kitchen this one day and slaps Buddy on the back and asks him how the heck he is doing today.  That would have been all fine except that when she slapped him on the back his toupee went flying off his head and landed a few feet away on the kitchen floor.

Silence.

You could have heard a mosquito outside the window.  After a split second hesitation and with a very red face, Eva quickly grabbed the toupee off the floor.  Put it back on Buddy’s head.  Smoothed it out.  Told him: ‘You have very nice hair.’ Then, turned on her heel into the dining room.

Locked Up in D.C. (1999)

A week after my precious son was born, I was in a strait-jacket, face down on the floor of a rubber room. Helloooooo postpartum psychosis.

I would shuffle down the hall, stooped over and drooling.  Aware, but unaware.  This was haldol or haloperidol – a strong anti-psychotic drug with tremendous side-effects.

As defined on-line by the Royal College of Psychiatrists:  Postpartum Psychosis is a severe episode of mental illness which begins suddenly in the days or weeks after having a baby. Symptoms vary and can change rapidly. They can include high mood (mania), depression, confusion, hallucinations and delusions. Postpartum psychosis is a psychiatric emergency.
Marti_9_months

My pregnancy with Leo was text book:  I took daily naps; walked gently with the dogs; swam; ate good food and drank lots of water; no caffeine; no alcohol.  We were living in Virginia because my husband Dean had accepted a job there with a dot com start-up.  His office was in Reston.  We found a very sweet two-story farm house with softwood floors, a front porch with a white wooden swing and a white picket fence.  Our house was in the wee village of Purcellville, about 40 minutes East of Reston.  Dean would go to the office every day and I would volunteer at various places: the library, long-term care and a thrift shop in Leesburg.  After volunteering, I would walk the dogs, perhaps go for a swim at the community pool, take a nap and then prepare us a nice meal for supper.  It was a lovely nine months.

One day, close to the due date in early August, with temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius, and with me as big as a house and quite uncomfortable, we decided to go to the county fair.  While sitting at a picnic table in the shade, I felt something strange going on in my abdomen.  Could this be labour?  Yes.  By eleven o’clock that night, the labour pains were in full force and they did not give up for hours and hours.  My mid-wife and my doula arrived and my mid-wife examined me.  I was at 4 cm.  In fact, over the next twelve hours, I remained at 4 cm.  By that time I was howling in pain with each contraction.  We had wanted to have Leo at home, but that dream was quickly fading.  My mid-wife told me that Leo was sunny-side up or, posterior in orientation.

The back pain was horrible.  I had Dean, our doula and the mid-wife pounding on my back and hamstrings because it seemed to help deaden the back pain.  Apparently, the back of Leo’s little head was pressing against my sacrum and causing all the shooting pain through my back and down my legs.

To help ease the pain, I had Dean turn on the shower with hot hot water and on hands and knees, I had it wash over me in the tub.  I stayed there for a long time, praying for progress.  Nothing.

Finally, I had had enough.  At about four o’clock on the second day (of course we had all been up all night), I finally begged my birth team to take me to the hospital.  I was screaming in pain.  I was an absolute mess – red face, stringy hair, sour body odour.  They reminded me that I had made them promise NOT to take me to the hospital.  I screamed at them that I couldn’t do this anymore.  I told them I wanted to run out the door, down the country road and lie in the ditch until the pain stopped with my death.  Talk of death spurned them into action.

Dean got our small mini-van and I climbed into the back seat on hands and knees and howled like a sick wolf all the way to the hospital, my hands clutching the back of the back seat while I faced backward, rocking back and forth on my knees.  There was no way I could sit down.  Dean drove like a mad man.  As soon as we got to the hospital room, I threw off my little sundress and labored stark naked.  I could not tolerate anything touching my skin.  When my Ob-Gyn arrived to examine me, I sniffed his spicy-scented exotic cologne and screamed at him to get out. Crazed by the scent, even though normally I would have loved it.  I was slipping into madness.  He left and came back after taking a shower.  He was a sweet, gentle soul.

Finally, I had been there long enough for them to observe me and examine me.  They were then able to give me an epidural.  Oh bliss.  The pain stopped.  A feeling of well-being and contentment settled over me.  My birth team: Dean, the doula and the mid-wife, all fell asleep on big comfy chairs, while I dilated.  I should have been absolutely sapped and should have fallen fast asleep with the epidural.  Contrarily, I was wide-awake.  A foreshadowing of what was to come.

A few hours went by and when the nurse checked me, I was finally at ten centimeters.  It was time to push.  By 2:14 am on Monday, Aug 9, 1999 Leo arrived.  He was perfect and beautiful.  A seven-pound boy whom I hugged, caressed and kissed.  I was so happy.

Jaden_diaper_table

We went home early from the hospital, but shouldn’t have.  It was my idea.  Hospitals were bad. I was sure of it.  At home, we struggled to get into a routine with the feedings and diapering of our new born.  Dean and I were quite worried about making any mistakes with Leo.  We were in Virginia without family to tell us what was what.

I started to become very very happy.  Elated, even.  I was unable to sleep and I wasn’t one bit tired.  I started making phone calls to all kinds of friends and family, in the middle of the night.  I had crazy ideas that didn’t seem crazy to me at the time.  I clearly remember calling one of our old army friends at four in the morning.  I had this idea that I wanted to gather all of our friends together to live in a tent city in our back yard.  Somehow, for some reason, I would be in charge. While I write, I can not quite recall what the mission of this gathering would be – just that it was very, very important.

Dean would be fast asleep, exhausted from the ordeal of the birth and the nighttime feedings and diapering of Leo.  I however, seemed to not need sleep at all and my thoughts would race all night.  I began sending emails in the middle of the night. In one particular email that I sent to my younger brother, Luke, I clearly stated that I thought I must be manic.  Remember, at this point in my life, I had never had mental illness but, I had witnessed it in my mother and my brother, Mark.

Next, I began writing furiously in my journal.  Whatever I wrote, I was sure it was profound and would gladly show it to Dean or anyone else.  I became delusional and started to have visions of myself being the Virgin Mary and Leo being baby Jesus.  My friend, Nancy, came to visit and I wanted her to massage me and do my hair and my nails, as if I was a celebrity and she was my servant.  When she wouldn’t comply, I screamed hysterically at her.

One of Dean’s work colleagues, Jamie, who had become our close friend down there, came to visit one night.  After he took one look at my wild eyes and heard the nonsense I was spouting, he said to Dean: ‘Marti is manic.’  He explained that he had just recently been with another friend who had gone through a similar trauma.  He told Dean that I would need to go to the hospital, now.

Dean’s face froze.  He knew Jamie was right.  My psychosis was worsening by the moment.  I was turning into a screaming banshee because people weren’t doing what I wanted them to do – things that were completely ridiculous.  Things that I wouldn’t normally EVER ask of anyone.  Dean and Jamie took me to the local hospital and they put me in a room for the night.  Of course I was very afraid of not being close to little Leo for feedings. The next day I was admitted to the psych ward of the George Washington University Hospital in D.C..  I was screaming and crying and carrying on.  They put me in a straitjacket, shot me in the ass with a sedative and man-handled me into a rubber room where they threw me to the ground roughly.  That might be funny in Monty Python movies, but it was dead serious for me.  I felt like I had just entered the ninth circle of hell.

Hours later I was put in a private room with an ensuite bathroom.  This was an old hospital and it was not pretty.  The windows were covered in a thick mesh and let in very little light.  There was a highway of ants at the bottom of the wall beside my bed.  What had I done to deserve this?  All I wanted to do was breast-feed Leo.  That wasn’t going to happen, I was told.  Due to all of the medication.  My breast milk was no longer any good for Leo.  Oh my.  That was a sad pill to swallow.

My mind was abuzz with all kinds of nonsense.  I thought I was in a movie and that all the other patients on the floor with me were actors.  I would try to catch them out on their lines.  I thought I was the Virgin Mother still and that this was a big test of my sainthood. I thought I could save people by laying my hands on them.  One day, I called my sister Eva and told her I had had a miscarriage that morning.  Before that phone call, Eva didn’t really think I was that ill.  Now she got it.  I called my old friends from Barrie whom I had grown up with.  Sally was the most attentive and seriously tried to help me out of this major predicament.  Kelly used medical-speak on me and it infuriated me to no end.  I called Sally several times.  I asked her to call my little brother and say ‘Snowball’.  I told her that he would know what that meant.  ‘Snowball‘ had been the code word for immediate deployment that we used in Germany in 4 Service Battalion in 1990.  Sally did it and I was ever grateful.

Dean called his eldest sister and asked her to come stay for a few weeks, to help with Leo while he was dealing with me and going back and forth the hour to the hospital in D.C. every day.  She was wonderful and did very well with Leo.  I called my mom’s older sister too.  She also came down to help.  The two of them got along famously: both red-heads, both mothers, both having had careers in education.  One day, the two of them, with Leo, drove to D.C. to bring Leo to me for a visit.  This was huge.  Two older women, from small Canadian towns, driving to the heart of a large US city with a newborn.  They did it and it made me very happy.   My eldest brother’s wife, June also came down for several days.  We were loved and taken care of.  What a blessing.

Immediately, to get my head straight, I was put on Haldol and it caused me to shuffle down the hall, stoop over and drool on myself.  It is a very strong anti-psychotic with awful side-effects.  I was also put on lithium.  Whenever I could, I would get on the phone and call any friend or family member whose number I had in my head.  I called Dean’s mom in Newfoundland and started spouting off about all of my troubles.  She told me simply: ‘Just do what the doctors tell you to do and get the hell out of there. ‘ That was good advice.

I was discharged in twelve days.

 

(Picture below credit to pinterest. The one of me in the red dress and of my baby are mine.  The dragonfly was taken by a friend of my cousin)

What do you think of this out-of-the-blue psychosis story?  I would love to read your comments.

on hill