“The universe inside my mind” A Life with Mental Illness

By: Stephanie Anne Margaret

“Am I good enough?”, “why are they staring at me? Do I have something in my teeth?”, “I’ll do better next time”, “I don’t deserve to be happy”, “I’m worthless”, “my family would be better off without me”.

These are just some things I’ve said to myself.  I repeat these phrases in my head multiple times a day sometimes; no wonder why I don’t like myself and don’t want to get out of bed today.  This is why I never finish a project and put myself down.  This is why I am jealous of many simple minded people (in a good way) that know how to live in the moment without even trying.

My name is Stephanie and I’m a mother of 4 incredible children. Molly is 7, Lily is 5 and my identical twin boys, Sawyer & Brady, are 2.  I have never imagined my life with children.  All my pregnancies were a precious surprise.  I never planned one pregnancy.  But I believe these beautiful little humans chose me as their mother for a reason.

I lived in a good home growing up, with my mother, father and older brother Daryl.  I had a few bad boyfriends that most likely have to do with my low self-confidence and need for constant approval. I’ve suffered with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. As a child I didn’t understand what I was feeling so I could never reach out and talk about it.  Family and friends think I’m happy and have it all together, when in fact there’s this storm inside my mind.  I’m constantly fighting with myself.  Until I started telling close friends and family, I truly didn’t realize that my thoughts and feelings weren’t healthy.  I started to begin to understand I didn’t have to live this way!  I remember my first panic attack. I was 8, I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath, my heart was racing, and I honestly thought I was dying. I was only 8!  I was sleeping and woke up in the middle of the night feeling this way. My mom tried rocking me in a chair and we ended up going to the E.R. They gave me oxygen and I eventually settled on my own.  I never understood what it was until I was much older.

My first pregnancy was a healthy one. Molly, now 7, was conceived in Banff, Alberta.  As you may be already thinking, i was shocked by the pregnancy and came home to Windsor Ontario to be with my parents.  I was 24 at the time and thought my parents would be upset or disappointed, when in fact they were pleasantly surprised. I was feeling like I was on cloud 9 after that.  Feeling happy and content for most of the pregnancy until I had to be induced because Molly was 2 weeks late.  This started smoothly but ended up in an emergency c-section after I was pushing for 5 hours.  Molly just wasn’t ready to come out, and on top of it, her umbilical cord was wrapped around her upper arm.  In the end of an unruly delivery, both baby and I were healthy and happy.  We left the hospital after a couple of days and I was a mom!  After a few months I decided to talk to my Doctor about how I have been feeling and how I have been feeling my whole life really.  She ended up diagnosing me with generalized anxiety and prescribed me a mild medication.  I left the doctors office knowing it was much more but I was too embarrassed to say my symptoms out loud.  I also still didn’t fully understand.  It is hard for me to concentrate on a task, let alone the mess inside my head! Constant worry, fear and panic.  All i wanted to do was feel “normal”.

When Molly was 6 months I met my husband Bill.  A great friend, father and son.  Bill suffered with alcoholism and paid the price.  He is now 6 years sober and I couldn’t feel more proud.  He made mistakes but took the actions to fix them. It was hard at the time because I became pregnant with our second daughter Lily (5) before he started rehab and spending 3 months in prison.  He even proposed!  And I said yes.  The prison wasn’t close either.  About 8 hours away.  At this time in my life I spent a lot of time on my own with Molly.  I moved into his house and made it our home.  My c-section for Lily was booked a week before Bill got home, so I pleaded with my doctor to hold it off until he got home.  My incredible OB ended up booking me for the following Saturday, even though they don’t book on weekends.  Bill came home the night before Lily was born.  We ended up going to the hospital early because I believed I was having contractions. We got to the hospital on time! Lily was born via c-section and everything was great.  Happy and healthy.  We went home and were now a family of 4.  I still continued my mild medication for anxiety but I knew what i was feeling was darker.  I believe I am a smart girl and I knew I had symptoms of depression.  I carried on through life and tried to keep myself busy.  I graduated from the Personal Support Worker program at St. Clair College and had a few jobs afterwards.  I didn’t last long because I was too sensitive and emotional.  I quit several jobs and then started working in home care.  I learned a lot about myself, like pushing through my anxiety made me feel better and that i was a good person.

Not far into my career, I became pregnant for the third time!  I procrastinated the prenatal process because I thought “I know the drill”.  About a week after I surprised my family with the positive pregnancy test my doctor booked an appointment for an ultrasound.  Oh! Did I forget to mention my husband’s mother is an ultrasound technician?  Well of course I wanted her.  Maybe a couple weeks later we brought the whole gang to the first ultrasound appointment, Bill, myself, Molly and Lily. We get called into the little dark room that I’m 100% used to, but the girls became scared when the machines went on, so they stuck to Daddy like glue.  Bill’s mother came into the room and put the warm jelly on my belly and we saw a baby!  She than started looking concerned and said “oh my goodness!, I need another opinion”,  and ran out of the room.  Now I am freaking out and so is Bill.  The girls are crying.  Another ultrasound tech walks in with Bill’s mom and does the scan, she says “Yup! You’re right”.  Than everyone keeps saying there’s 2!! There’s 2!!  I broke down in tears and yelled “We Need a Van!!!”.  They finally got a chance to show us both babies after I calmed down and Brady was much smaller but had a strong heartbeat.  After this I knew things were going to be different.  I saw my OB after a couple ultrasounds and she got real with me.  If Brady continues to not grow at a normal rate we would have to terminate him to save Sawyer.  Now, knowing both babies were stable and had strong heartbeats, I knew this was not an option!  We went for the full ultrasound and they couldn’t find all the parts of Brady’s heart because he was so small.  Now we have to travel to London Ontario for a more detailed ultrasound that lead to a second ultrasound in London.  Brady ended up not having an important valve that they need to survive in the womb.  But the doctor was rather optimistic with his diagnoses.  We just tried to keep happy thoughts brewing in our minds.  For about the last 10 weeks I had weekly ultrasounds and everything was ok up to the c-section date.  My pre-op discovered that my blood pressure was too high and they should deliver right away but my appointment was the following morning so we left it at that.

My beautiful boys were born at 36 weeks in November 2014. Sawyer came first at a whopping 6 pounds 7 ounces, and then Brady was 2 minutes later at 3 pounds 10 ounces.  Sawyer struggled more with breathing and had to be taken away.  And Brady actually came with us to recovery.  He surprised us.  Sawyer was in the NICU for 10 days before we could bring him home.  Knowing Brady was still at the hospital killed me.  I went every day to visit Brady at the hospital.  I breastfed him, held him, talked to him, bathed him and begged the universe to help him grow.  I remember whispering to him on a regular basis, “you’re a strong baby boy, you don’t want to live here because you have your whole family waiting at home for you. You have a home, baby”.  As soon as he got out of the incubator it was only days later that he had to be put back in.  He ended up with NEC which is in his bowels and he needed to be on antibiotics and couldn’t eat for 10 days.  He’s already small! Now he can’t eat!  Only a day passes and we see blood in Sawyers diaper at home.  I broke down as I got ready to bring him to the ER.  Now I had a baby on the paediatric floor and one in the NICU.  I lived at the hospital.  I still to this day don’t understand how I stayed strong.  It wasn’t until everyone was finally home, as the family I pictured, that my symptoms spun out of control.  It was Christmas time so I fought myself daily until the holidays passed.  I wanted to die.  I didn’t believe I was good enough.  I honestly felt my family would be better off without me.  Family and friends had to convince me to get help, but just to get out of bed was hard enough.  I didn’t want to be in public or even talk on the phone.  Once I forced myself to call I got an appointment for a few days later.  It was the worst doctor’s appointment I ever had.  I never cried so much.  I never felt so weak and helpless.  Diagnosed with postpartum depression and major depressive disorder made me feel like less of a human.  My doctor was not very sensitive and her bedside manner made me feel like a pile of shit!  I ended up finding a new doctor and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  My new doctor looked deeper and sent a referral for a psychiatrist.  Now I know I suffer from bi-polar disorder, a mood disorder that I was born with.  This was hard to hear but at the same time my life made sense for the first time ever.

My diagnosis of bi-polar changed my life.  I started on many different medications and unfortunately most of them did not work the way they are meant to.  I am sensitive to mood stabilizers so now I’m on a variety of medications to help me stay stable.  I have recently went through a rough patch.  All I wanted to do was die. I didn’t want to exist.  I felt like a failure as a mother for no particular reason. I just constantly compared myself to other moms and felt that my children would be better off with a different mom.  If you ever feel this way you’ll never feel it will pass but it always does. Even if it’s just one good day within a month of darkness, that’s the day where hope is found. Those are the days you cherish and those are the days you need to train your brain to understand that when you are in complete pain and suffering it’s ok to ask for help.  Tell someone you trust how you’re feeling.  It will save you.  It’s so easy to say, I know.  When I’m in my dark place no one can change my mind but they can just be there.  Support is lifesaving, but you need to reach out. On your next good day, reach out.  You won’t be judged, you’ll be supported and you’ll feel better because the ones that love you will do everything they can to understand your mind.  You’re creative, you’re beautiful, you’re unique, you’re a mom.

Email me if you ever want to talk to another mom that is surviving with a mental Illness.