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MidAge Mom is for women who are parenting in midlife rather than celebrating the empty nest on a beach in Bali . . .

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Mad Mother

 

 

 

Almost more than anything, my battle with anxiety and depression the last few years has affected me as a mother.

It’s hard to be there for other people when you can not be there for yourself. While my two daughters have been incredibly supportive and understanding, the cost of my illness has been and continues to be high for our relationships.

In short, on many occasions in the past four years I’ve been a bad mother.

I didn’t visit my older daughter, Isabelle, when she was hospitalized with a kidney infection a few years ago. I also missed her college tour two years ago and her graduation from high school last spring. And I certainly wasn’t there to send her off to college.

I started driving my younger daughter, Jessica, from school to dance this fall after realizing that unless I did I would never see her since she gets home from dance at 9 p.m. and I go to bed at 7:30. When I do pick her up, however, I am often in tears, which can’t be easy for her. And I’ve been known to miss her in The Nutcracker.

My father had problems with depression and alcoholism so I know what it’s like to have a troubled parent. It’s hard. My illness has been difficult for both of my daughters but perhaps especially for the oldest, who found me lying on the floor last summer with a cut on my head that required stitches. Isabelle also couldn’t have felt great when, suddenly feeling better, I attended her younger sister’s ballet recital a week after missing her graduation.

When I haven’t been there emotionally for my daughters my husband has had to fill the gap. It has made the three of them closer than they probably would be otherwise. But that doesn’t make up for the guilt and loss I feel for missing years of their lives. There is much about them – from the names of their friends to that of their teachers – that I don’t know and would know if I were better. And just because they are older now, in college and high school, doesn’t mean they don’t need me.

I certainly never imagined it would be like this when I wrote the book Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life when they were younger and I was so involved in their lives.

For four years, the household has also been missing its mommy manager, leaving family life a bit disorganized. Bill says that with me out of commission the house is falling apart; repairs have gone undone, bags of stuff await Goodwill and the house is way overdue for a general purge.

Despite it all, though, along with my husband, my daughters have been my biggest cheerleaders, urging me on. I have a card on my desk from them that says, “Keep going Mom! We love you! Izzy and Jessy.” Along with their support, it helps keep me from giving up. My younger daughter is particularly good at reminding me to take things one day at a time and although she doesn’t always find me in great condition, the older one keeps those calls from college coming. I am not like some sick people who find themselves ill and alone.

My illness has also made the good times that we do have together all the more special. I’ll never forget what fun I had shopping and eating out with Isabelle in San Francisco a few months ago. And I think both Jessica and I find the times when I am well and pick her up at school special.

In any case, both girls seem to understand that I am doing the best that I can. I answer the phone even when I’m in bad shape when my older daughter calls from college, and I try to ask about the younger one’s day even when I pick her up from school in tears. I’m the best mother I can be right now.

So thank you Isabelle and Jessica for all your understanding. You constantly remind me how much I have to live for. I’d be a lot worse off without you.

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Am I a bad mother? Share by commenting below!

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Makeup, Jewelry and Clothes

My therapist says she can always tell when I’m feeling better because I’m wearing makeup, jewelry and a decent outfit.

Consider me sitting here right now one day after electroshock therapy to alleviate anxiety and depression. I’m wearing three bracelets my mother-in-law gave me and some fabulous dangly earrings I’ve had since high school, all of which have been sitting in the closet. I’m also wearing a pink knit jacket and pink shawl, which I discovered in my closet along with all sorts of other clothes I’d forgotten I owned.

“Gee, I really have some nice clothes,” I caught myself saying, perusing my garments like a foreigner in a strange land. It felt like a genuine discovery.

During the last few years that I’ve been suffering from anxiety and depression, I’ve tended to wear the same outfits for weeks at a time, along with little jewelry and no makeup. Today, the first thing I did after arising feeling better from ECT treatment was to change the outfit I’d been wearing for a month, and put on some new jewelry and makeup.

Who says you can’t read a woman by her outward appearance? From my experience, the amount of attention a woman gives her appearance says a lot about how she feels in the world. The long, sparkling earrings I’m wearing right now and the three beautiful bracelets from my mother-in-law say everything about my present state.

It’s nice to be feeling well enough to put them and a little mascara on.

The things that come back first when you feel like your old self are often so familiar that they’re hard to appreciate. Makeup, jewelry and clothes – they are of minor importance to most women.

But to a woman recovering from anxiety and depression they can make the difference between who you were and who you long to be.

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Advice

Never before have I gotten so much advice. But then, I’ve never had such a mysterious illness.

For the past four years, I’ve suffered from depression and severe anxiety. It came, unexplained, out of the blue. I’ve tried at least ten different drugs without success to treat it. I get electroshock (ECT)  treatments every two-three weeks but they’re really geared to relieve depression, not anxiety, and I mainly suffer from the later. As a result, perhaps, ECT treatments only make me feel good for a day or so.

But that’s the first line of advice I encounter – from both my husband and the psychiatrist: that I should get regular ECT treatments because I was a wreck before I started ECT. They both believe that although the therapy’s immediate benefits are short-lived, it has helped my overall functioning, allowing me to travel and write. (My husband points out that I am writing this on an ECT high, one day after the procedure; most of the time I am too anxious to write.)

My own instinct tells me it’s not worth it to wake up at 5 a.m. to get a seizure produced under general anesthesia, which leaves you groggy and unable to remember the names of your children. And a neurologist told me he didn’t like ECT because the therapy destroys brain cells. After more than 30 treatments, I can definitely say that my memory is not what it used to be. Yet I find it hard to argue with my husband and the psychiatrist because, unlike them, I can’t remember my catatonic, pre-ECT days.

So I take their advice and get the ECTs. As a result, both my mother and my therapist say I’m not listening to my own inner voice, especially since I get anxious and don’t sleep the night before being electroshocked. They don’t think I should get the ECTs.

Then there is our beloved nanny/housekeeper who gave me five showers in my catatonic, pre-ECT days and who is like a member of our family. I rely on “nanny” as we call her, in all sorts of ways and most of all to help me keep my anxiety in check. She constantly reminds me to take things “dia por dia” or “one day at a time” – by far the most valuable advice I’ve gotten on this difficult road.

This has been hard for her as well as for the rest of my family. Yet I’m just incapable of taking a lot of her advice to get out and do things, like walk the dog, staring out the window drinking coffee instead. Such is the nature of an anxiety disorder; you just don’t want to go out into the world. (I do drive my younger daughter to dance, something I didn’t used to do.)

So while I took up nanny’s suggestion to start swimming, we often end up disagreeing, with her advising me to do something I say I can’t do. Among other things, she thinks I should swim in our freezing cold pool twice a day.

And that’s not to mention those caring and compassionate family members who have made their opinions known in an effort to help me. My sister-in-law got me signed up for a clinic where you send stool samples for analysis so we can see if anything strange is going on in my gut. (She is doing the same for herself.) My brother and mother want me to go to a major center like the Mayo Clinic.

I sent off the stool samples and my husband signed me up for the Mayo Clinic. I then wrote “please cancel” on the information the clinic sent us. I’m scared to travel, so going to the Mayo Clinic sounds like flying to the moon, plus I believe Miami has good doctors.

Still I think I could handle it all if it weren’t for the fact that some of my beloved husband’s advice conflicts with my gut instincts (which he claims are solely to sit staring out the window). In addition to believing more in ECT than I do, Bill thinks it would be beneficial for me to listen to some hypnotherapy tapes I have on my phone and believes vitamin injections help me – neither of which I feel.

He also likes the psychiatrist better than I do, not that I prefer the others we’ve seen.

I appreciate so much how Bill has supported me through this ordeal that I tend to go along with his opinions. And I can’t deny that he remembers the last four years and last few weeks a lot better than I do.

So are my mother and therapist right: am I failing to follow my own best instincts because I’m ill? Or am I just taking the best advice around me like any smart, sick person would do? I really don’t know, but I’d love to hear your comments.

Just because I’m up to my eyeballs in advice doesn’t mean I couldn’t use a bit more.

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Do you have advice for me? Share by commenting below!

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                                                                                 Photo © Artistashmita

Disclosure: I use some affiliate links. If you click and buy a product, I make a small commission. Thanks for your support!

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