Monday, December 29, 2014

My New Friend, Paxil: A Story of Postpartum Depression

The day before my baby turned 9 months old I told my husband that I was going to text my midwife and ask her to prescribe me an antidepressant because I had postpartum depression (PPD). He was immensely understanding and empathic. He didn’t take the opportunity to say, “I knew it.” He was simply with me in my moment of realization and pain. He’s the main reason that the months of increasing PPD symptoms leading up to that moment hadn’t been allowed to affect our baby to any discernible degree. He had always been there to take over when I became overwhelmed and needed to regroup. He always knew when to step in.

I’m not a clinician or a psychotherapist, but I am a developmental psychologist with more knowledge on psychological disorders than your average bear, so I found myself wondering how I could have gone nearly five months without realizing that I had PPD. I was disappointed in myself for not realizing I had PPD given that I had struggled with depression since adolescence. I should have seen the symptoms. I knew I was at a greater risk for developing PPD because of my history of depression.

As I waited for my midwife to text back, I thought back to my previous bouts of depression and realized it was these previous depressive episodes that had thrown me off the trail for sniffing out my PPD. The set of symptoms I had with previous bouts were different than my current struggle with PPD. My previous depressive episodes left me in bed all day. I would sleep up to 20 hours per day waking only to eat and use the bathroom. I ate a little less than I probably should have. When I was out of bed, I spent my time crying and watching depressing television. I socially isolated myself.

My PPD symptoms were nearly entirely different from these pre-baby depressive episodes. I had raging insomnia. I was ravenously eating 4,000 to 6,000 calories per day (Thanks to the miracles of breastfeeding, however, I was slowly loosing about a pound of the baby weight each week.). I was irritable. I felt constantly overwhelmed. I couldn’t manage to help around the house. I had a low-grade, chronic, generalized feeling of anxiety. When I was alone, I found myself ruminating on frustrating and depressing things that had happened in my life. I couldn’t focus. I found myself unable to enjoy just about everything that I loved. I couldn’t talk to my husband like I used to. I didn’t want to go to work. I couldn’t muster the energy to exercise. I couldn’t read more than a few pages of a book. The only thing I enjoyed was my baby, but as the symptoms grew, it was more and more of a struggle to delight in him. This was my breaking moment. My PPD was starting to threaten my relationship with my baby, so I reached out for help.

Another reason it took me so long to see PPD coming was that the symptoms didn’t come all at once and they started off as mild, growing over time. My insomnia started out in August as not being able to go back to sleep after the 4am feeding. By December, I was getting only 2-4 hours of broken sleep per day. My anxiety started off mildly too but had grown to the point that I had a few panic attacks by Thanksgiving. I had lots of good days without symptoms, but the good days became fewer and fewer, and the bad days became more frequent. The day I realized I had PPD I was starting what I knew was going to be my third bad day in a row. Bad days never lasted more than a day and a half prior to that. When my midwife called to talk to me, she said the anxiety is the most common symptom she sees in moms with PPD.

I also found it difficult to distinguish first-time momma struggles from PPD. It was easy for me to brush off a bad day by attributing my symptoms to fluctuating hormones. Babies are stressful, so it seemed plausible that I would be more stressed out and overwhelmed. My baby is a terrible sleeper so clearly I wasn’t going to get much sleep. Transitioning back to work is hard according to the Internet. Teething can be a nightmare said the baby books. I was making 24-48 ounces of milk every day, so of course I was going to be hungrier than normal. The morning I realized I had PPD, I looked at my husband holding our baby while I took my vitamins and asked myself why I didn’t feel as joyful as my two favorite guys seemed. Then, it all added up: changes in appetite, changes in sleep, inability to concentrate, rumination, irritability, no energy, anhedonia, feeling withdrawn. If someone else would have told me that’s how they felt, I would have told them to see a doctor for depression. It only took one look at this page to confirm my suspicion. I have PPD.  

The day that I took my first Paxil, I stopped binge eating. I ate three normal sized meals and a small snack. I no longer craved carbs and sugar. Two days later, my anxiety was replaced by a feeling of peace. That day I also emptied the dishwasher and did two loads of laundry for the first time in five months. Five days later, my insomnia subsided. Now, I’m just the sleepy momma of a baby who wakes multiple times a night to nurse. A week after taking my first Paxil, I've exercised three times and lost as many pounds of baby weight. The most important transformation, however, has been my relationships. I don’t snap at my husband. I don’t freak out over stupid stuff. I’m calm and peaceful. My relationship with my baby has gone from good to amazing. I no longer find it a struggle to be present. It’s so much easier for me to delight in him. He also seems to delight in me more. He’s never smiled and giggled so much. Before I started Paxil, I sometimes had to fake it. Now, it’s natural. I’m looking forward to going back to work after Christmas break.

I’m not going to beat myself up over having PPD or for not recognizing I had it sooner. I’m going to forgive myself for the times I couldn’t be present for my baby. He seems to have already forgiven me anyway. I’m going to be thankful that I realized I have PPD when I did, rather than later. I’m going to be proud that I was strong enough to ask for help as soon as I realized I needed it. I’m going to celebrate my new start.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Five Elf on the Shelf Hacks to Make your Life Easier

1. Do not purchase an Elf.
2. Do not ask to be gifted an elf.
3. Tell other people NOT to give you an elf.
4. If someone gets you an elf, re-gift it to someone you hate.
5. If you have an elf, kill it.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Lilly White: Breaking the Boundaries of Gender Stereotypes

In my Developmental Psychology class, I have my students create children's literature that breaks gender stereotypes because children who are less sexist have better developmental outcomes and one way to help kids become less sexist is to expose them to media that portrays both sexes more diversely. The problem comes when you try to find media that doesn't reinforce gender stereotypes. Thus, my students and I have become part of the solution by creating children's literature that portrays both sexes in non-traditional ways. This post is my favorite story from this semester, so I'm rewarding my hard-working and creative students by making them astonishingly famous by publishing their retelling of Snow White on my wildly popular blog.
Lilly White
Tessa Rademacher, Issac Pohlman, Nikki Deel, and Ashley Thornton

Once upon a time, there was a valiant woman named Lilly White. While walking through the town, Lilly grabbed the daily newspaper and noticed something interesting. “The Prince is Missing!” the headline read. Lilly continued to read the article. Lilly discovered that the queen was holding a competition: Whoever found the Prince first would win a great reward.

Intrigued, Lilly decided to enter this competition. In preparation, she headed to the gym to lift. She sharpened her two trusty swords and prepared her noble steed. She grabbed her PowerBars® and whey protein shakes and ventured off into the night.

At dawn, Lilly found her stash of PowerBars® low and decided to find a place to rest. While wandering around for several minutes, she found a small, tidy cottage with a wonderful garden and elaborate landscaping. Curious, Lilly knocked on the door.

After knocking, a small voice greeted her, “Who’s there?”

“A local townsperson on a quest to save the Prince. I am in need of PowerBars® and more water for my protein shakes.”

The door slowly opened, revealing a small man wearing scrubs. “Oh, Dear! You look exhausted and parched. Come in. I need to check your blood pressure and get you rested up.”

Lilly contemplated and decided to accept the invitation.

Upon entering the cottage, Lilly was greeted by six other little people. The smallest one jumped up and yelled, “A guest! A guest! So exciting!”

The scrub-wearing little person led her into the living room to a hot tub. “Go ahead, Dearie. Go on in and I’ll go get my equipment. Gosh, those nails look awful!”

Lilly casually looked down at her nails, confused, then, at the rest of the little people. The smallest one, again, yelled, “It’s so exciting to have a guest here! My name is Peppy!”

Peppy began to point around the room. “And that’s Nurse who let you in. And that’s Sleazy, Ditzy, Sappy, Crampy, and Crabby! Would you like a back rub?”

Lilly, overwhelmed by the peppiness, considered the offer. “Uh…I do have an itch on my back. I just lifted yesterday and I’m so swole I literally can’t even reach it.”

“Of course!” Peppy began to scratch Lilly’s back.

Soon, Nurse returned with a blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope. During her examination, Lilly felt cramps in her stomach. “That darn whey protein,” she thought to herself.

One of the little people interrupted her gassy thoughts. “So…like…what are you doing?” Ditzy asked, twirling his hair.

Lilly, enjoying her back scratch and hot tub time, proudly said, “I’m on a quest to find the missing prince.”

Sappy, a love-struck looking man, swooned, “Oh! True love’s quest!”

Sleazy, a midriff-showing, leather pants-wearing little person, seductively walked up to the hot tub, switching his hips side-to-side, and began to rub Lilly’s toned delts. “You don’t have to go so soon, ya know. You can stay here in my room,” he said with a slightly perverse wink directed toward Lilly.

Crampy, a rather whiny little person, kept repeating himself: “I have a migraine. Can we dim the lights? I’m starting to get my knee pains again too.”

Crabby, a little person with resting bitch face, rolled his eyes. “Why the heck would you care about true love with hair like that?” as he smacked his chewing gum.

“Now, now everyone,” Nurse began. “Look, she needs her clothes washed, a fresh meal prepared, and plenty of rest.”

“I feel a hot flash coming on,” Crampy complained.

“Oooo, I’ll make her a fresh meal,” Sleazy said in a sultry voice as he waltzed off into the kitchen.

“I’ll start the laundry! Nothing says true love like fresh laundry!” Sappy exclaimed.

While the little people took care of Lilly’s needs, she set out on an evening walk through the woods. The sun was beginning to set when she heard sobbing coming from behind a big oak tree. She drew her sword ready to battle and tiptoed toward the tree. She sprung around, taking the mysterious creature by surprise, only to find a full-grown man on the ground in the fetal position, rocking and sobbing. Lilly rolled her eyes and, with as much sincerity as she could muster, said, “Um…hi. Are you okay? You look a little…sad.”

The man looked up at her and replied, “NO! NO! I’m NOT okay! Is your mom the meanest person ever! The answer is NO because mine is! What am I going to do?”

Lilly let that rant sink in before replying, “Well, I’m sure it isn’t that bad. I think you should suck it up a little.”

“SUCK IT UP? You want me to just SUCK IT UP? You try having the Queen as your mom always on your back about your missing brother. It’s too much for one guy to handle. I just can’t even. Literally, I can’t even,” replied the man.

Putting two and two together, Lilly realized this sobbing, pathetic man was the brother to the missing prince. This was Prince Prissy. “Great,” she thought, another basket case for me to handle.

“Funny you should mention it,” Lilly said, “I’ve made it my own personal quest to find your missing brother. I love a good competition. I guess…if you have to…you can join me if you agree to a few conditions. One, don’t talk. Two, basically leave everything to me and just know if it comes down to it, I will leave you behind.”

Like a deer in headlights, Prince Prissy nodded his head, got up, and followed Lilly to the cottage. They gathered their things along with food prepared by the little people and set out at dawn in search of the prince. 

Many days passed before Lilly and Prince Prissy came across a tall tower. Leaving Prince Prissy in a meadow to pick flowers, Lilly started to do a little reconnaissance. Only a few minutes into her recon mission, she heard Prince Prissy shriek. “Darn it,” she thought, “This is exactly why I didn’t need this clingy, basket case to be my problem. Reluctantly, she went to see what mess he had gotten himself into.

She found the prince standing with a woman, when they both turned to look at her. “My word” the lady exclaimed, “you can’t do anything for yourself can you?” the lady directed  toward the prince. “You needed this brute to do what you couldn’t handle.”

“But Mah-um,” Prince Prissy exclaimed, “you don’t understand!”

All of a sudden, a faint voice from the top of the tower called down, “Hey! Hey! I’m up here! Mom’s gone mad! Get me down!”

The Queen, filled with rage, turned into a ferocious dragon.

“Oh, great,” Lilly said, knowing she was the only one brave enough to slay the dragon and save both princes.

Lilly drew both her swords, looked the Dragon Queen in the eye and said, “Say hello to my two mighty pythons!” flexing both of her biceps. Like a boss, Lilly took down the dragon with a single strike of her sword.

“You’re amazing!” the prince from the tower called, “I’m forever in your debt.”

“But, um, how do I get down from here?” The prince asked.

“Jump!” Lilly instructed, “I’ll catch you. Don’t you trust me? Don’t be so needy.”

“Funny you should mention it. Needy is actually my name. Prince Needy, that is,” the prince replied.

“For goodness sake, just jump.” Lilly demanded. Reluctantly, the prince followed her orders and jumped from the tower into Lilly’s strong arms.

“Is it just me, or is this love at first sight? Lilly, I’ve fallen for you. Like, literally,” the prince swooned.

“Yeah, about that. I’m sure you’re a nice fella. It’s not you. It’s me. I think I’ll be going now. Good luck without your Mom and Prince Prissy.”

Lilly gave a friendly wave and headed off seeking a new adventure.

And they all never lived together. Ever.

The End.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Using Pets to Prep for Parenthood in 77 Simple Steps

Many well-intentioned people get pets because they think it’s going to prepare them for parenthood. I was one of them. The problem isn’t so much that pets can’t prepare you for being a parent. Rather, it’s more of a problem of how most people parent their pets that ill-prepares them for parenting humans.  I don’t want to poo all over your dreams, so I’m going to give you some practical advice on how exactly pets can prepare you to rear children.

1. Get at least one dog and one cat.  If you want a bigger family, add more of either type of pet. This will simulate having children of different personalities, motivations, and capabilities. Bonus points if they fight like cats and dogs. Pun intended.
2. Smear the cat’s ass with chunky peanut butter (This will be important later).
3. Put a diaper on the cat.
4. Put the cat in a onesie, pants, socks, and a hat.
5. Take the dog out to go potty. Bring the cat with you. You can’t leave kids unattended! The dog says he doesn’t have to poop. He swears.
6. Time to dress the dog. He needs a shirt, pants, socks, and shoes.
7. The dog is insisting, “I do it myself!” so you have to let your dog at least try to lace his own shoes.
8. Get frustrated and try to tie your dog’s shoes. He goes catatonic and refuses to wear shoes. You’re running late.
9. Find the cat! Where the eff did the cat run off to while you were wrestling your dog into shoes!?!
10. The cat has knocked the fish bowl over and is trying to eat the fish. Remove the fish from your cat’s paws.
11. Your dog’s goldfish is dead.  You dog saw the whole thing and is whimpering for you to make the fish all better with big sad puppy-dog eyes (again, pun intended). Put the dead goldfish back into the bowl. Refill the water. Lie to the dog and tell him the goldfish is just sleeping. Text your spouse, “Come home with a goldfish that is an EXACT replica of Bubbles. ONLY AN EXACT REPLICA WILL SUFFICE.”
12. Bathe and change the cat who is covered in goldfish sewage (You haven’t changed the goldfish’s water in 3 months. How has that goldfish survived up until now?!).
13. Oh, gross. There’s chunky peanut butter all over the cat’s ass. Don’t act disgusted or upset. You don’t want to scar your cat for life. Paste a smile on and start scraping the peanut butter off of the cat.
14. Bathe the cat.
15. While you are trying to get the cat into the bath, your dog has stripped naked and hopped into the tub.
16. Bathe the cat and the dog.
17. The dog pooped in the tub.
18. Pull the wet, sudsy cat and dog out of the tub before the turd touches either.
19. Get the fish net, fish out the turd, and flush it while holding a wet, screaming, sudsy cat.
20. Put the cat and dog in the bath in a different bathroom and finish bathing.
21. Redress the cat and the dog. While you were dressing the dog, the cat unrolled all the toilet paper and ate an undetermined amount of it.
22. The cat and the dog are hungry. Make the dog an organic bento box with fresh vegetables and homemade hummus while you breastfeed the cat.
23. Leave the mess for your spouse to clean up.
24. Put the cat and the dog into their respective car seats. Pull out of the garage and start your exciting day trip to the beach!
25. Alternate playing dogs barking Christmas carols and cats meowing Disney hits.
26. Stop at the store to pick up some essentials.
27. The dog has fallen asleep. The cat has thrown up all over himself. Clean up the cat. The cat eating toilet paper has made this task a bit easier! Wake up the dog and put him, now grumpy, into the cart.
28. Put the cat into the cart. The dog doesn’t want to share his leg hole with the cat. He spends the whole shopping trip crying. The cat scratches him. He tantrums while you’re in the sunblock aisle.
29. Check out. Do not let your dog eat any of the candy. Do not let your cat knock any of the candy off the shelves.
30. Pay for the candy your dog ate. Apologize for your cat knocking off all of the candy on the shelves.
31. Get back into the car. Turn on static so your dog and cat take a nap on the way to the beach.
32. Listen to static the WHOLE GODDAMNED DRIVE.
33. You’ve made it to the beach! Now, park. The dog and cat are still asleep. Sit in the car still listening to static waiting for the dog and cat to wake up.
34. They’re awake! Put your kids into the stroller. Stuff the stroller with your blanket, beach bag and towels. Carry the cooler and umbrella. Do not hit anyone while walking to the beach.
35. Apologize for hitting someone with the umbrella, another for hitting her with the cooler, and an elderly couple for running into them with your stroller. Find a spot and get comfortable.
36. Spray the dog with sunblock. Do not let him run into the water. You'll be judged harshly if your child is leashed so you have to let your dog be free range.
37. Put the thick, pasty baby sunblock on the cat. Sorry, there is no spray sunblock for babies.
38. Take the dog and cat to the water. Make sure the dog doesn’t drown while keeping the cat out of the water. The cat will scream if touched by water. The dog will scream if removed from it.
39. Lunch time. Finally! Breastfeed the cat while making sure that absolutely nobody knows that you are feeding your cat with your boobs. At the same time, make sure the dog sits still and eats his organic veggie-wrap pinwheels you made him.
40. The dog’s done eating. He's eaten only the wrap of the pinwheels. The cat’s not done eating. Continue breastfeeding the cat while making sure that the dog doesn’t go over to other people and beg for food and attention.
41. The cat’s asleep. Entertain the dog making sure not to wake the cat.
42. The dog has to go potty. The cat’s still asleep. While you are looking for the closest bathroom, your dog pees on the blanket. Cover it with sand.
43. The cat’s awake. Time to take one more dip into the water. Repeat 36-38.
44. Time to go home! Gather up your things. Repeat 34.
45. Your dog is crying. He wants to walk. Let him out. Proceed to continue your walk to the car stopping to look at every. single. tiny. little. thing. at one-tenth of the pace that you would normally walk.
46. Apologize to everyone who walks past you for being so slow and for hitting them with the umbrella/cooler/stroller.
47. Put the dog and cat in their respective car seats. They want snacks. Give the dog cereal puffs and tell him to share with the cat.
48. Pull into the drive. Your partner is home! The dog wants to go see your partner. Let him out. He runs inside. Phew! One less kid to wrestle.
49. Get the cat out of the car. The dog has shared his cereal puffs by what appears to be, first, chewing them himself and, then, smearing the resulting paste all over the cat’s face and hair. Carry your crusty cat into the house. Leave the crap in the car. Your partner will have to take care of that.
50. You walk in just in time to see your spouse pulling out the new goldfish and giving it to your dog. You try to stop him but you can’t. It’s happening too fast. The dog is running gleefully to put his new fish in with Bubbles.
51. Your dog is screaming, “BUBBLES IS DEAD! HE IS NOT SLEEPING!” Snot bubbles (again, hahaha, so punny) have appeared.
52. Tell your dog you are sorry that Bubbles is dead. Begin planning a funeral for his dead goldfish. He wants to invite Nanny and Poppy to the funeral.
53. Nanny and Poppy arrive. Within 7 seconds of entering the house, Nanny has said 11 passive-aggressive things about your housekeeping, laundry, and parenting.
54. Swallow the blood trickling from your tongue which you have been biting. See 53, above.
55. Have a goldfish funeral.
56. The dog insists that Nanny and Poppy stay for dinner. You’re supposed to eat after you have funerals, he says. Make a mental note to Google your dog’s precocious knowledge of funeral practices.
57. Hand over the parenting duties to your spouse and Nanny and Poppy while you make a three-course, post goldfish funeral dinner.
58. The dog won’t eat any of the food you made because Nanny gave him a bag of candy from her purse.
59. Nanny and Poppy go home!
60. Start the bedtime routine. Baths all-around. It’s your spouse’s turn to take over!
61. Go to the bathroom before you drink the glass of wine you poured yourself to celebrate Nanny and Poppy’s departure. 
62. Forget that the cat “used” all the toilet paper in your bathroom. Wait on the toilet until your spouse is done bathing the pets so you can ask for a roll of toilet paper.
63. Your naked, wet dog brings you a roll of toilet paper.
64. The dog comments that your tummy looks like a fat donut. He wants to pretend to eat it. Hurry him out so you can finish your bathroom "break."
65. Look longingly at the glass of wine on the counter as you walk through the kitchen on your way upstairs with your naked, wet, wriggling dog.
66. Trade pets with the spouse so that the dog can be read “Goodnight Moon” fifty-eleven times.
67. Breastfeed the cat in the dark nursery listening to the gentle, soothing sound of white noise. Do not look at your phone. The cat does not care that you are bored. You must sit there in the dark and like it.
68. Forty-five minutes later, emerge from the nursery having successfully nursed the cat to sleep.
69. The dog is still being read bedtime stories. Try to sneak past without being noticed.
70. You were noticed. Squish into the dog’s bed with your spouse and read “Goodnight Moon” four more times.
71. Leave. Close the door. Walk downstairs. Reach for your glass of wine…
72. The dog is thirsty. The dog is yelling for a glass of water. Send your spouse to give the dog water.
73. The yelling has woken the cat. Put down your wine and repeat 67.
74. Repeat 67 every 2 hours.
75. After the 4 am feeding when you can’t go back to sleep, yet your spouse is sleeping peacefully, Google “Sleep training” and "Child obsessed with death" while finally having your forgotten glass of wine until the 4am feeding.
76. Wake up at 6am with a hungry cat and a dog who is crying because he peed the bed.
77. Repeat steps 1-76 for 18 years in various venues and rotating characters with other insane situations that you never imagined possible.