Mental Health Stigma Suicide

How I Started Treating Pregnant and Post-Partum Mental Illness & Why It’s Important

I’m going to preface this post with…nursing school was horrific. If any one reading this is a nurse; you feel me. If any one reading this wants to become a nurse…being a nurse is better than nursing school. Hang in there.

Maternity was mid-way through nursing school. Right when I felt like I was never going to get through the program but also feeling I had come so far and couldn’t go back now. I hated maternity. There were many reasons why but it was not my jam. First day in post partum I was given a patient with a fetal loss. I had to take pictures of the mom holding her dead baby.

Writing that now, I’m like wow that was definitely messed up. They had a nursing student manage this incredibly intense case on my first day on the rotation. Looking back I can see the rest of the time I was overwhelmed, and disengaged. Not only was I not interested but I felt somewhat traumatized by my first day there and felt shut down by my clinical instructor when I mentioned how intense that experience was. It didn’t get better. In fact my last day my clinical instructor pulled me into her office and said “I was this close to failing you.” Then proceeded to berate me. It was pretty awful. Aside from that one experience my grades were stellar, I graduated Magna Cum Laude, and I had glowing reviews from every other clinical instructor.

I think the instructor didn’t like me. I think I didn’t like maternity. And I think my first day on the unit having to deal with a dead baby and grieving mom by myself for nine hours straight with no support from the nurse or my instructor set the tone for me.

That entire experience left a bad taste in my mouth. Through the rest of my nursing career I steered clear of anything maternity based.

My first experience with post partum care after nursing school was years later on an inpatient psychiatric unit. I had my first patient with postpartum psychosis. I treated her the same as all my other patients and honestly didn’t think much of it. Psychosis is psychosis. Needed to be stabilized and discharged with a plan in place. I had a few pregnant patients inpatient and then a few more postpartum psychosis cases. Enough that I felt I had some exposure to perinatal and postpartum mental health care. I learned what medications are safe-ish for pregnancy and medications for post partum with a nursing mom. I can’t say I loved it. I just did it.

Then I started outpatient care. I was young (28?) and I think as a result I saw a lot of young female clients. I don’t remember the first one who told me she was pregnant. I do remember several different times though. Some were teenagers disclosing looking scared and ashamed. Some had abortions. Some didn’t. Some were young women who were newly married and glowing with excitement.

I do remember trying to convince the first two of my pregnant clients to see a different psychiatrist or APRN who has more of a specialty in peri-natal care. They asked who that would be. I asked the psychiatrist I worked with at the time who had far more experience than I did. He gave me two names. I gave them to my clients. One of them actually called. The other didn’t. They both came to their next follow ups and essentially told me they didn’t care that I didn’t have a specialty in peri-natal care that they trusted me. They liked me, and one of them said, “I’m sure you’ll figure it out for me.”

I remember going back to the old psychiatrist I worked with. I reviewed their meds with him. I talked to the pharmacist on staff at the hospital. And for the next few pregnant people I continued to seek regular supervision and took some continuing education courses specific to peri-natal and post-partum psychiatric care. Fast forward seven years.

Probably a third or more of the caseload of my entire practice is peri-natal and/or postpartum clients. I know the postpartum specialty therapists. They all refer to me for medication management. I get calls from OB-GYNs and therapists asking if I can fit in a post partum case. I never advertised this part of my practice as it developed. I think it’s all been word of mouth. There are very few psychiatric practitioners willing to treat pregnant women and even fewer who will take on acute postpartum cases. I honestly didn’t realize how hard it is to find a provider to treat pregnancy and post partum until I started doing it.

I carried my own biases into this part of practice back when I first started not just from my first bad experience in nursing school. I thought of postpartum illness like many probably think of it- as an illness where Mom’s don’t like their babies, and maybe even try and kill them. I had a case in the pediatric emergency department when I was two or three years in. I remember it was a five week old with a head injury. There was a clear handprint on the baby’s head.

It ended up having a skull fracture. The Mom sat stone faced. Blank. The dad looked like he wanted to puke. The baby just lay on the bed until I picked it up and cradled it when it cried. I remember glaring at the parents. Why are they just sitting there? Why would they hurt this beautiful baby? Eventually the Dad broke down and told us it was his wife who did it. She hadn’t been right since the birth. Looking back now I can recognize that she clearly was psychotic at the time, and she was ultimately transferred to the adult hospital and admitted for psychiatric evaluation. I think we knew that she had postpartum but I didn’t truly understand what that meant other than her being cold and her baby having skull fracture.

These were the experiences I brought with me into my career as mental health APRN. When that client told me to figure it out for her. I remember thinking, what the hell am I getting myself into?

At some point during the following few years I got pregnant and had my own kids. I did not experience postpartum. I experienced twins. Twins who required exclusive breastfeeding. I had a C-Section. I went blind (my vision came back). I had pre-eclampsia/eclampsia. All in all pretty shitty time. But I wanted those little dudes. I worked so damn hard to have them. I kept them in through 36 weeks and 3 days of puking daily often multiple times daily. I was sleep deprived. But I was so incredibly happy to have them. I remember staring at them. I should have slept. But I couldn’t look away. Post partum time sucked because I was sleep deprived, I was sore, I had twins, and I had to breastfeed. But I didn’t have any overwhelming depression or anxiety on top of it. For that I am grateful.

Now I’m seven years into outpatient work. I’ve had many, many, pregnant and postpartum patients. I’ve treated depression, anxiety, mild to moderate to severe. I’ve treated post partum psychosis and post partum anxiety and post partum mania. While I’m writing the diagnoses though I’m picturing the women.

Because the women touched me and taught me. I’ve treated women who have had severe post partum illness but still felt incredibly bonded to their babies. What I found more common is women feeling bonded to their babies versus not. The clients who feel not bonded are definitely less common. Some times the only relief for women with post partum depression and anxiety is the time with their baby.

The women who struggle with bonding tend to have significantly more guilt, more shame, and in my experience are higher risk to develop more severe symptoms. When I have some one come a year before they want to get pregnant I want to do a happy dance. I reassure them that 1. there are medications safe for pregnancy and 2. in my experience the clients who figure out the meds that work for them before pregnancy and before post partum do much better in the long run.

The clients I’ve treated during post partum; some of them I’ve now treated through two and three more pregnancies and two and three more post partum time periods. I’ve counseled women who had severe illness who want to get pregnant again. Such deep fear exists and also such hope and longing. I’ve never counseled against a pregnancy. I do review the data, and the pro’s/con’s, risks and benefits. I had one woman start crying and look at me, and ask me “If I do this I’m just scared you won’t treat me because I was so sick before and it took us so long to get me better. Please just promise you won’t stop treating me. I’m so sorry. I just want this so bad but I can’t do it without you.”

People who know me, know that I am not someone who cultivates dependence on me. If anything I do the opposite. I want people to be flying free and never feel that I was solely responsible for healing them. Because they do all the work. I’m more like the tour guide. They are the driver. But treating post partum illness has made me appreciate the provider-patient relationship in a way that I haven’t with any other types of clients or illnesses.

There is not another illness that makes women feel so raw, so vulnerable, so shamed, and isolated as perinatal and post partum does. Because pregnancy is supposed to be a happy fun time. To feel like you’re breaking inside is not socially acceptable. Because post partum is stressful, and you have a new baby, and people think maybe your overreacting and why are you so sad, just take a nap and it will be fine. Why are you sad? You have this beautiful newborn baby to love on?

This has all been said to me. “My life is perfect. This is what I wanted. Why do I want to die?”

I watched When the Bough Breaks on Amazon. It’s heartbreaking and incredibly accurate.

Everything leading up to my career in psychiatry made me think I would never have anything to do with pregnant women and post partum women. But honestly it’s one of the most rewarding aspects to my career and it’s a lifeline that my practice and the providers here have all embraced this as part of our mission.

I’ve held a lot of fears, a lot of pain, and a lot of those deep dark scary thoughts that are not voiced anywhere but my office.

I think back to the mom in the emergency department who broke her child’s skull (the baby was fine, as skull fractures go it was mild and no long term issues). I think of her so differently now. I see her as ill and clearly not engaged in treatment. I wish she had a provider who could have intervened sooner. Some one who could have hospitalized her sooner and medicated her sooner. I think back to that mom and I think she’s why I figured it out. Because somebody needed to. Because mental illness strikes pregnant women and postpartum women too. She needed treatment. Not judgement.

The best part about telehealth is intervening fast with post partum illness. I can see clients 3, 5, or 7 days post partum because we do the appointment remotely. But for my established clients we already have a plan. Usually I see their smiling face come on the screen at 3-4 weeks post partum. They’ve already restarted the med they stopped during pregnancy, or doubled the dose we decreased for the last few weeks before delivery, or whatever the plan was they did. They weren’t terrified of post partum because we had a plan. They still struggle at times and sometimes I still have to refer out for higher levels of care. But they have support and we know what works and what doesn’t.

I had one client call me from their hospital room because they were fighting with their nurse who was trying to give them their lower dose of the anti-depressant and she knew we were supposed to go back up immediately after delivery. The poor postpartum nurse had to deal with me and the postpartum Mom telling her this was non-negotiable. Increase the dose and if she can’t do it then get me on the phone with some one who can. With my client intermittently yelling the birth weight and that she was able to have a vaginal delivery, and I had to tell her to stop yelling I’d talk to her later, let me talk to the nurse.

I’ve been texted pictures of newborns and I’ve been texted pictures of positive tests. I’ve been mid-telehealth when a client got a call from her fertility doctor, asked me to stay on the line to hear the result with her, and was there for her positive test result. I got the call when that same mom went into pre-term labor and delivered early. I saw her weekly until the baby came home from the NICU more for reassurance than anything.

I’m grateful I’m not the one catching the baby. Because good lord that’s just disgusting. I’ve had to be there for a few childbirths including my own kids, and I’m all set. But I am this peripheral support through entire pregnancies, post partum, more pregnancy, and more post partum, and sometimes infertility thrown in the mix also. It’s a journey that is incredibly intimate and to be a trusted component is incredibly rewarding.

Post-partum illness has a mortality rate. Women with less supports, family history of mental illness, and a history of their own mental illness like anxiety or bipolar disorder are at higher risk for psychotic symptoms which increases risk for suicide or infanticide.

Ask Mom’s how they are doing. When I ask mom’s how they are doing. Really ask. Eye contact and everything. They usually have tears well in their eyes and say, “No one’s asked me that,” because it becomes all about the baby. Ask them. And don’t dismiss their sadness as fatigue. Don’t dismiss their fatigue as just due to having a newborn. Ask if they have talked to their doctor. Ask if they have a therapist or mental health provider. We as a society need to open up the dialogue. We as a society need to support new mom’s and dad’s better.

Telehealth needs to remain permanent. Just as there are set in stone follow ups for baby and Mom with pediatrician and OB-GYN there should be a set in stone follow up for a psychiatric professional to meet with every new mom at least once in the first four weeks of postpartum.

Mental health has to become part of the pre-natal, peri-natal, and postpartum dialogue in doctor’s offices and in our communities.

The statistics are that 1 in 7 women will have clinical post-partum illness. Roughly 600,000 women a year in the USA. Approximately 50% of women with postpartum illness develop symptoms during pregnancy. IT’S NOT JUST HORMONES!! That infuriates me when I hear that clients have been told they are just being hormonal while they are literally breaking inside. 1-2 women out of every 1000 will develop post partum psychosis. 10% of Post partum psychosis cases result in suicide or infanticide. Suicide is the seventh leading cause of death in the first year after giving birth.

Educate yourself. All my clients love to be Dr. Google. This is one area I encourage googling. There are personal accounts that are heart wrenching. The more you know the more you may be able to help a friend or family member during and after pregnancy. Know that these women are not just hormonal. They are suffering from a mental illness with a biologic basis. There is treatment. 80% of cases are remitted completely with medication and therapy.

I think back to my first day in maternity at the ripe age of 21. I think back to all the emergency department cases that were so messed up. I think of all the cases that could have been prevented if they had adequate treatment. I think of my clients and their struggles that are so raw and courageous.

Just like I never went looking for nursing, it sort of found me. I never went looking for maternal mental healthcare. But it sure found me and I’m not sorry it did.

#COVID-19 · Divorce and Separation

When Life Feels Good (During COVID and Divorce)

There are certain moments in life that feel right. The last few years those moments felt few and far between. Some one asked me recently if I missed my ex. Some one else asked me specifically what ended our relationship. Those are some loaded questions. People who know me know I am uncomfortably direct and honest with myself and others. I did some introspection and answered honestly.

I miss feeling not alone. I miss having some one who gives a shit as to why I’m running late at work or having some one who even knows when I work. I miss getting a checking in text from some one who cares how my day is going. The little things that people in pairs take for granted. That’s what I miss.

Do I miss our marriage and relationship? No. I don’t. Because toward the end we were both miserable. I would never go back to that. I do miss having some one. Between being a mom to twins and running a mental health practice I deal with a lot on a day to day basis. I essentially hold it all. I feel like I hold up everyone else and I have to just keep on holding myself up too. Because there’s no time or space to fall. I miss having some one who could catch me if I felt like I was falling. But somewhere in our relationship we lost that. So no. I do not miss the last year of our marriage.

What ended it? I answered “What ends a 13 year relationship? It wasn’t just one thing. It can’t be pared down to a pretty one liner. And honestly now it doesn’t matter. Because the end result is that it is over.”

A few weeks ago I walked into our new office space and two of my employees were there seeing clients, there was a client in the waiting room and I could hear our office manager on the phone with a client in the back office. We had our yoga music playing on the tv in the waiting area and all my gay books were on the coffee table staring happily at me. I stopped and took a breath and smiled. I thought here are all of these people employed because I built a business. Clients getting mental health treatment because I had a dream. Some times running a mental health practice is the least crazy part of my life. Ironic I know.

It felt right in that moment. Through my dad’s death, through COVID, through a divorce I’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into that business. I’ve had weeks I couldn’t get paid. I’ve interviewed many, many, clinicians. I’m selective in who I’ve hired and I’ve been burned in many ways. I kept going.

To date we’ve provided services to over seven hundred clients and rough estimate is that half are Queer identifying. I walked down the hallway at our new suite of offices with the noise machines whirring, the music playing, and distant muffled voices of providers and patients. Then the not so distant voice of my admin as I went to shut her door as she now yelled at an insurance company. I felt pride. I did that. I made this happen. I fought through grief, hate, discrimination, a global pandemic that shut down in person visits for a year, and so much more to keep it going.

I take being an employer seriously. I never want my employees feeling like the way I’ve felt working at other agencies and hospital systems. It’s easy to devalue employees. I find it’s harder and more rewarding to support them. I still have hard conversations at times. We don’t always agree. But this weekend, I had them all with families in tow at my house by the pool. It was another one of those moments.

Smiling, laughing, swimming, and genuine enjoyment of each other and our families. It’s a beautiful thing to build a business that serves clients. It’s even more special to build a business that has employees who feel valued and happy to spend a Saturday hanging out with each other and our crazy kids and partners.

It was another moment that felt right. We all know we do hard work. When we walk out our office door it makes a difference to be surrounded by people who you want to work with. Who bring you up instead of pull you down. We have all been in bad work environments. Building a good one was just as much my mission as building a great practice. We are not all cookie cutter. Every one is a little weird and has stories and after seeing us all in swimsuits we mostly all have tattoos. But I like weird and backstories and tattoos. I am all of those things. So it works.

After a lot of bad moments since 2019, it feels good to know that through the bad I can still build good.

Of course I ended the day explaining to my sons at bedtime not to be scared of getting a new parent because all the sudden they realized that I could apparently get married again, give them a new parent, and in Declan’s words, “And it better not be a man Mama!” Wow. Judged by my 5 year old. I said, “No one’s lining up baby so don’t worry.” Then he got into bed muttering, “Well no one better line up, and not a man, Jackson imagine if Mama marries a man?” Those are stick my palms in my eyes moments and try and kiss them goodnight and run out of there.

To all my people who keep showing up for me and for my sons, with wine, sushi, zucchinis, folding laundry, helping me move my office, and continuing to invite me places even though I’m the third wheel now…Thank-you. I would not have survived the last year without you. Life isn’t perfect. Life is change.

Uncategorized

The Scent of Grief

Some things still catch me off guard. It’s been over two years since my Dad died. But Father’s Day this year snuck up on me and I got the email from daycare at the end of their day. “We will be talking about Dad’s this week!” it said cheerfully.

I shot an email off to the director knowing I was already too late as they had circle time already that day. They were on their way home to me with my ex. “The boys do not have Father figures. Please do not try and force them to find a male figure during this week’s discussions about Father’s Day. My sister has a wife, the boy’s have two mom’s, my dad died in 2019, and there are no extended male family members they have any ongoing relationship with especially in light of COVID. We literally haven’t seen any one for over a year in our extended family who are male. Do not try and find a substitute father figure for them. Just acknowledge they have two Mom’s who love them and Aunt and Auntie, Gramma, and cousin who love them very much.”

That night at bedtime one of them cried and they talked about how they miss Poppy (my Dad) and I asked if they were upset because they talked about Father’s Day at school. They were. I reminded them of all the people who love them. I reminded them that some people do not have Dad’s and that’s okay. Meanwhile I was trying not to be irrationally angry and Mama Bear wild tempered at their preschool teacher for trying to place a male figure into their lives when they do not have one.

They told me they didn’t have to do the Father’s Day craft. I said why don’t they do it for Mommy or Mama? They didn’t want to. I didn’t push it.

I realize this is going to be a yearly event unless Father’s Day happens to fall late enough that they are not in school by that time in June.

Single Mom guilt can be bad. In that moment hugging my sons as they bemoaned their Dadless lives I felt lower than dirt. Not only do they not have a Dad, but they do not even have intact parents. Their two mom’s couldn’t cut it. I realized I was disproportionately angry at preschool (it’s called displacement or projection in mental health) because I was really angry at myself for 1. forgetting about Father’s Day and not having a discussion beforehand with their teacher 2. for being smack dab in the middle of a divorce with their other Mom and 3. for literally having no male family members for them and for missing my own Dad so hard.

Dude. It was a rough week. I had a client who said she had trouble setting limits with her kid because of single mom guilt. I reflected that I am a single mom. I definitely feel guilt. A lot. But I still make the boys clean up their toys, put their clothes in the laundry, and most recently clean all the bathrooms with me because they climbed over the back of the couch for the hundredth time after me telling them not to for the ninety-ninth time. We laughed that Mom and I. She totally understood what I was saying and she felt seen. I validated that single mom guilt is a real thing. Because lord it is.

The Spring is the anniversary of my Dad’s death, Easter, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, and my Mom’s birthday and then the 4th of July all in quick succession. It feels wrong still. All these holidays without my Dad. He was disorganized and often didn’t plan my Mom’s birthday until the last second. But he managed to pull through usually. Not with the same attention to detail when my Mom plans birthday parties, but he got the job done. The last two of her birthdays with him alive were not fun as he was in the throws of Dementia and we all were watching and waiting as he declined.

What I wouldn’t give to give my sons the experience of my Dad. But I can’t. Instead I have to tread carefully around Father’s Day because I am grieving and my sons are questioning why they do not have any one to celebrate. It’s a hard thing. And it’s freaking yearly. Couldn’t be biennial or triennial. Nope yearly. In the past I’ve tried to celebrate their other Mom on Father’s Day and we called it second mother’s Day. But honestly this year we were in the midst of mediation sessions that haven’t all been super amicable and I just wasn’t feeling like I wanted to do anything. Sundays are her days with the boys so they were with her anyway.

My sister invited me over to her house with her family and my Mom and her in-laws who are just lovely and who I actually like very much. But I stayed home. I painted my fence. I thought my Dad would nod in approval to that. I had to stain it this year. It’s a lot of fence and deck. I made some heavy progress that day. I blasted my music and painted up and down the fence and rolled it on the deck. My Dad wanted above all else for us to be happy. I’d say I’m seeking happiness and that I am at least on the other side of unhappiness.

I try and practice gratefulness. I am grateful for my sons, and I hope one day they can be Dad’s to their own children. I am grateful for the time I had with my Dad pre-Dementia. I am grateful for the stroke he had during Dementia because for some bizarre reason that was one of the last truly lucid conversations I had with him was in the emergency department as he was recovering from the stroke. It was like having my old Dad back. It was bizarre and wonderful and heart wrenching and I ate up every second of it. He laughed. Actually laughed. And cracked jokes and was his old self.

I am grateful for my marriage because without it I would not have become who I am. I am grateful for divorce because without it I would not be able to be who I am. I am grateful for my cats because those rascals keep me company when the boys are gone on Sundays. They keep me sane with their insanity. I am grateful for my mom, my sister, my sister-in-law, and my niece who have been a constant presence in my life and supported me unflinchingly through this divorce and who love my sons as much as I do.

I am grateful for the intense and sometimes debilitating grief I feel for my Dad because it is a reflection of the love I felt for my Dad the truly unconditional love he felt for me. I wish he were here. I wish I could talk to him about my divorce and mediation and hear him tell me he would support me no matter what and ask me what I need and tell me to just keep moving forward because that’s what we have to do. And he’d make some comment about how at least I’m not Catholic because when he got divorced the fucking priest told him to get the feck out of the church. (He was still a little bitter about that). He’d tell me he met my Mom after he got divorced from his first wife, and look at how lucky he was to have my Mom and me and my sister. He’d tell me he’d never have had me in his life if he hadn’t gotten divorced.

I know he’d say these things because I knew my Dad. So well. We had all those conversations. He always told me he was grateful for divorce because it gave him me and my sister. He told me he felt lost after his divorce felt like he was a failure and that he missed his kids from his first marriage so much. He told me he loved my sister and I and he was always so incredibly proud of us both. He told me he didn’t know how I came from him because he admired me.

It’s been raining the last few days and so I did a 550 piece puzzle. I don’t think I’ve done a puzzle since before the boys were born. I listened to an audiobook and actually had time to do it because the boys occupied themselves with toys, games, and tv. They would intermittently pop in and “help” me with the puzzle and also make me take breaks to play Memory with them.

The audiobook I listened to had a line about grief. It hit me.

“Smells are the worst. Smells can put you right back into the belly of grief. When you love too hard you can lose the will to live without them. Nothing feels right and everything cuts.” I remember giving my Dad hugs and digging my face into his left chest. If he was wearing his army uniform there would be a pocket there and maybe some pins or his name pin. It always had a starchy smell to it mixed with his deodorant. If I hugged him on a holiday he’d smell of cologne and still have a pocket on his left chest that I would rub my face into. If I close my eyes I can almost feel his shirt, smell his scent, and feel like I am with him.

Dear reader if you take nothing else from this post: remember that grief is a reflection of your love for someone. True grief is a reflection of true love. Do not run from it, do not hide from it, let it in, little by little so it can be felt in pieces and can help you remember how deeply you loved. For what is a life without love? My Dad would say it is a life that is empty. My Dad would say “You have to do it Muffin, because you might just get lucky like I did.”

homophobia · Mental Health Stigma Suicide

Won’t Back Down

This week has been rough. It’s only Wednesday. On top of single mom-ing it, dealing with a sick cat, and running a mental health practice…it’s been busy. The cat is doing better. My kids are…giving me a lot of greys but otherwise okay…and I was threatened by a disgruntled patient.

I think it’s easy to surround ourselves with safe bubbles. Liberal or conservative, gay or straight, we often surround ourselves with people who make us feel safe. I do this in my own life personally and professionally. It’s rare for me to be threatened and as I’ve gotten better at screening patients it’s happened less and less. In fact it had been a few years.

I’ve never called the police but I called them this week. The threat felt calculated and also quite unhinged. And I’m sick of people trying to bully me because they see rainbows on my website and figure out we are Queer. And I was actually threatened. You can’t do that to people. It’s not okay. I felt violated and shaken.

I’ve actually had a knife drawn in my office before. Twice. And I didn’t call the police then. I never actually felt threatened. Sounds a little crazy I know. But the knives were more statements not necessarily pointed at me. And I shrugged and asked them to put it away. They did. This career is voluntary and in moments like those with the knives and years later with being threatened over the phone I always have thoughts of walking away. I don’t need this.

But I don’t walk away. Because that also irritates me. Because why should I give up what I love to do because of a few threats here and there? I didn’t feel good filing a police report. I felt annoyed generally that I had to do it annoyed at the threat, annoyed at myself for being shaken and forgetting how I lived protected in my bubble until it was burst.

I’ve never shared publicly threats in the past but again, I’m sick of being bullied. As a Queer female business owner who is not an MD, but an APRN, people generally feel more entitled to speak down to me or to raise their voice or in this case to threaten me.

The threat would not have been made had I been a straight white male MD with a boring website without rainbows. That kind of enrages and saddens me.

When I’ve been threatened in the past and with the knives it was never about being Queer it was patients who wanted certain medications that I declined to give them. This was different. This was plain old hate and discrimination.

There is not much more to say about it except that it happened. That I know all too well this comes with the territory of being an openly affirming Queer owned practice. But it still feels bad. I feel afraid at times and I don’t like that feeling. I had to tell my employees what happened and I am so grateful that they are part of my protective bubble. Because there was never a question from them about the severity or degree. No doubts just validation. They also work for me at this super Queer practice and put their safety at risk because they believe in what we do and me. They believe in me. I’ve felt a lot of feelings this week. Incredible gratitude for all of them was one feeling.

I’ve listened to a lot of Eminem. He’s my go-to. His songs are gritty and all about survival. Well minus the really messed up ones that are about murder and drugs and rape…I gotta be honest I dig some of those songs, like 3 A.M. so messed up, but probably in my top five favorites. But I digress. I’ll get through this with time and Eminem and as much as I want to walk away from the work I never could and seeing clients helps remind why I do this. Why I stick with it through the bad and the ugly. Because most people want help. Most people are trying so hard to get through and I can help.

Bubbles are great when you are in them, but rough when they burst.

Ironically this is all happening during Pride month. A celebration based out of hate and discrimination.

To any Queer people reading this. I see you. We are stronger together.

Divorce and Separation · homophobia · lesbian mom

Happy Pride & Why it’s Important to Me

Pride month.

An administration that recognizes Pride month. Amaze-balls.

Why is Pride month a big deal? Why do we need Pride month? Why can’t you have heterosexual day or month? Blah blah blah. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We literally live in closets. For one month we can be in public spaces and not be scared to hold hands with partners. We can be at parades where we see and are seen. We can be unequivocally and unapologetically who we are. We get one month to be comfortably out. The rest of the year there are not many spaces we can all be comfortably out. Visibility is important.

Let me tell you some stories. I have a trans client whose Mom has been intermittently transphobic and had a hard time coming to terms with her son’s transition. It brought tears to both our eyes as they recounted their Mom at the NYC Pride parade, wearing a t-shirt that said, “I love my trans son” and a random trans female walking out of their spot in the parade. Beelining straight for my clients Mom and asking for a hug who enthusiastically gave her one. That moment still brings tears to my eyes. I wasn’t even there.

Pride allows us these moments.

I have many clients who first saw other people like them at Pride events. “I didn’t even know people like me existed, then I went to my first Pride parade and was like wow. I want to be them.”

I know people who were physically assaulted when they came out to family. I know people who were sexually assaulted and physically assaulted for just existing as they are. Pride allows all of us a place to find love, acceptance, peace, and most of all hope.

Have you ever been physically or sexually assaulted because you identify as heterosexual? Likely not. You can exist in any space without fear of being victimized because of your sexual orientation and gender identity. That’s why you don’t get a month. Because you get every freaking day.

I saw a guy for a few dates. At the second date he 1. expected I would have sex with him. 2. Wanted to know when we could have a threesome. 3. Was annoyed and perplexed when I declined both options and told him where he could stick it. He made a lot of assumptions based on the fact I had been with a woman: he thought I would hop into bed. He also thought I would want to hop into bed with both genders. Obviously. He didn’t get a third date. Would he have acted that way with a heterosexual woman? My guess is no.

The best part of Pride month for me this year is my practice. I spent June 1st in my brand spanking new office. It was built for us. There are four offices, a waiting area, kitchen area, and bathroom. The Landlord designed it with me, tolerated my multiple significantly more expensive demands, and now we all have windows. We all have sheetrock ceilings and heavy doors and the more expensive soundproofed sheetrock. We also have excessive numbers of outlets, dimmers on all the lights, and a thermostat for each individual office.

I commissioned an artist to make a “super classy, super Queer, not stupid, no unicorns, but obviously gay, massive painting” for a wall in the waiting area. She laughed when I said not stupid. She said, “I actually know exactly what you mean. It can get excessive fast with the rainbows.”

It feels amazing to own a space, make it mine, to have built a practice of people who are on board with the super Queer mission of the practice. One of my employees was there decorating and said she didn’t buy a print because she thought maybe it would be too much in terms of too gay. I told her if any one thinks it’s too gay friendly they are not meant to be at this practice. She agreed.

I want my practice to embody Pride month. I want that energy of hope and acceptance to be oozing out of my group. It’s incredibly freeing to be able to pursue this without any boundaries or people trying to hold me back.

I’m surrounded by Queer people. Which means I have been touched by homophobia and have witnessed transphobia firsthand. I hear about it all second hand also. My best friend and my sister are both lesbians. My ex is obviously a lesbian. I’m pleasantly curved. I have other Queer folks in my family and many many more in my friends. Then there’s my clients. I looked at my day recently and 8 out of 12 were Queer in some way. I remember smiling. I built it. They came. I love it. Pride month brings visibility but it also brings up the dark side. It brings up Stonewall. It brings up all the LGBTQ individuals who have been victims of hate. It reminds me of my sister sinking two foul shots at our state finals as the opposing crowd chanted “DYKE DYKE”. It reminds me of countless restaurant experiences of being stared at and talked about sometimes quite overtly. It reminds me that my sons have never met their grandparents on my ex’s side.

Hate drives homophobia and transphobia. The opposite of hate isn’t love. In this case it’s acceptance.

Nothing prepared me to date men again and realize after the first date why it felt so different. It wasn’t because it was a man. It was because I didn’t have the constant worry and hyper-vigilance that comes with a same-sex relationship. I was relaxed. I didn’t think the waiter or the people on the street or at the restaurant would come after us. I could let my guard down. The external minority stress was absent. I remember feeling relief. But also such deep sadness and grief. That stress was there every time I went out with my ex. It was such a part of us that I wasn’t even aware of it until it was gone. Minority couples do not go through less stress. They go through more. Because on top of normal couple stuff we have to worry about being targeted every time we step out the door.

Pride month is important because it’s the antithesis of every other day of our lives.

Be you. Love you. Happy Pride Month!

Divorce and Separation · Mental Health Stigma Suicide

What Not to Say to a Queer Woman on a Date

My therapist is closing his practice. Ugh. Took me nine months to find him. Because let me tell you how hard it is to find a therapist when you work in psychiatry in a small state. I share clients with far too many therapists.

I have until the first week in July and I told him we have until then to cure me. Because lord I don’t want to find another therapist. Then I was having coffee with a therapist so we could meet; and it was AMAZING to meet another human adult person in person without fear of dying of COVID. Thank-you vaccines. It was literally the first time I’ve done something that I used to do pre-COVID. Meet with a therapist who I share a lot of clients with. I suppose it’s considered networking but also generally common courtesy just so we can get a feel for one another. Not actually feel one another. Get your mind out of the gutter;)

So I was having coffee with him and I told him how my therapist is leaving. Sigh. And he started trying to fix it and name therapists for me, and I’m like wow. I can’t. It’s too soon. I haven’t broken up with my current therapist yet.

So let’s talk about online dating as a former lesbian. I know I’m not a lesbian. Any one who knew me before my wife knows I’m not a lesbian. But apparently having an ex who is female, as a female, makes men assume I am 1. a former lesbian who had a “phase” 2. Into threesomes 3. In need of “dick”…?

So let me provide some education here. If you ever date some one who used to date some one of the same gender or opposite gender or whatever; don’t say stupid shit.

When I train therapists and APRNs who ask for supervision related to seeing transgender clients I say the number one thing to know is “DON’T BE A DOUCHE”. I don’t yell it. But I repeat it a few times. Now I say the same thing to men trying to date a woman who used to date/be married to a woman. Don’t be a douche.

Don’t assume my sex life was lacking for the last decade I was with a woman. Because it wasn’t. Don’t assume I have not been with a man. Don’t assume I need a dick. Cuz yeah. There’s been toys around for a long time friends. No one actually needs a penis. Well except men I suppose. But even that’s debatable.

I learned quickly not to disclose my ex’s gender when chatting with prospective dates. I didn’t even disclose on a couple first dates because of disastrous responses. If there was a second date. Which there weren’t many. Then I would say her gender. Then I would still be asked pretty horrendous and invasive questions. I would also be fetishized in this creepy way. Imagine telling some one you have an ex then having them ask you how you had sex (because apparently some men don’t know how two women have sex?!), how you conceived your children (whose sperm and how it got into my uterus were common themes), and everything else you could possibly imagine being asked.

If you’re purely straight you have not had to deal with this. Because straight people generally know how a female becomes pregnant and they wouldn’t want to know about your previous sex life. I’ve been working on a presentation about LGBTQ mental health and I’ve read several articles that detail how bisexual individuals have the highest depression and suicide rates among the L’s and the G’s. I kinda get it. I mean I’m not suicidal. And I’m not depressed. But for some one more fragile and less secure entering the dating scene having been with both genders sucks. The discrimination is real.

I’ve talked to my therapist about it. A lot. Then I deleted the dating apps. Solved the problem. That was not his advice at all. But it worked for me.

I didn’t ever think dating would be this complicated. But I guess not every one has as fluid an understanding of sexuality as I do.

To clarify: Just because I’ve been married to a woman and am now dating men does not mean I want to have a threesome. It also does not mean I have been yearning and or significantly missing penis in my sex life. It also does not mean I had a phase. It means I fell in love with some one and then fell out of love with them; to diminish a decade of my life including a marriage and children to a phase is demeaning and insulting.

I think I’ll just send a link to this post to any prospective dates. lol. Not kidding though.

Overall life is good. My sons are good. My divorce is progressing. My business is growing. And the dating thing…well I know what I’m not looking for.

#COVID-19 · Divorce and Separation · homophobia

“Yeah It’s Been a Little Rough”. 2021.

I feel like 2021 is just a wicked continuation of 2020. It’s been an emotional roller coaster for me. Watching the Derek Chauvin trial has been horrific. Death doesn’t frighten me. I’m intimately acquainted with death of all kind. Traumatic, planned, old, young…personally and professionally I’ve known death of all kinds. George Floyd’s death gets to me. It was so preventable. It was traumatic.

You ever watch Bad Boys II Marcus- “This has got to be the worst most emotional cop week of my life.” Mike- “Yeah it’s been a lil’ rough”. If you are familiar with Marcus and Mike you know that is the expected reaction of each to a horrible week of people being murdered and trying to crack the biggest case of their career.

I feel that. I feel Marcus’ drama and Mike’s calm acceptance. I feel like a constant mix of those two. I watched a documentary about systemic racism told by a white man who was descended from slave owners. He said, “Doing nothing was not option,” very softly and humbly but looking directly into the camera as he explained why he was making this documentary. It’s his reckoning with his families relationship with slavery and human trafficking. Parallel to his story is the narrative of a Black man who imparts such wisdom about white supremacy and the system that exists. I couldn’t look away when he spoke and I replayed his scenes several times to really hear him.

One of his quotes that hit me is below:

“Something has to happen in your mind for you to look at a person or child and say well that’s gonna be sold to Mr so and so and you never look at them as human and that’s what this country is built on. The Indians were treated that way…we want it and we have a right to take it. So you gotta do something in your mind to treat people; humans that way. You make them heathens, so you can treat them any way you want.”

I never learned about the Tulsa massacre in 1921 and it angers me. I hold a deep anger at the white education I received and I fear the white education my sons will receive and know I will have to provide them extra curriculum. Why didn’t I learn about Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with a young female slave? She was a child. She had his children. Because it doesn’t suit white people to educate white people in a way that paints Black people as victims and survivors. They don’t get to be the heroes of their own stories.

Why did I not learn about the violence that white people have perpetrated against Black people since the days we first landed in America? Has it escaped no one that if perhaps any of these white police officers had any education about systemic racism that maybe they would not have killed innocent Black people? Why did it take until 2021 to hold a white police officer accountable for the death of a Black man?

I treat police officers. I treat young Black men. I treat young Black boys. It’s been a little rough.

Add in some of the toughest most anti-trans legislation in at least 33 states. I treat transgender clients. I am Queer. I can’t possibly describe the disgust, fear, pain, visceral pain that I feel when I see these bills becoming laws. The law in Arkansas targets children. Children with higher risks of suicide. Children across the country are seeing these laws pass. Children with transphobic parents are being pushed further into the closet. Or closer to running away and being homeless.

The mass shootings. Suddenly are rampant. In the town where my practice is located there was an active and armed shooter.

The environmental and cultural stress happening right now is indescribable.

Add in divorce, online dating, mom of twins, and owner of mental health practice during a global pandemic…yeah. 2021. I feel like I’ve been punk’d.

There are moments that make me remember I am just a Mom and life feels chaotic in a normal type of way. Like when I was talking to one of my employees about a rather serious case, and one of my sons started screaming as if he were dying, and came running in, still screaming to the degree that I thought there would be a bone sticking out somewhere…but he showed me his shoulder. Which now sported a bite mark. I had to hang up on my employee because 1. he was screaming 2. I had to deal with one of my sons biting my other son because as I would find out the biter didn’t want the bite-y to take the pair of Spiderman in the Memory game they were playing together.

Another day I was on the phone with a therapist collaborating on a different tough case and I ran around the house trying to get the boys ready to leave for school, and I’d intermittently hit the mute button so I could yell, “GET YOUR SOCKS ON” Son- “WHY ARE YOU YELLING???” Me-“BECAUSE I ASKED YOU NICELY FIVE TIMES AND NOW I’M ANNOYED!!!!” un-mute, “uh huh, yes I totally agree” in my most professional voice.

I literally should be a reality show.

I was crying watching the phone call with Biden with George Floyd’s family. Because he sounded sincere and because it took their son being publicly murdered for the President to speak with them. It just all sucks.

I hug my sons. I try and teach them right from wrong. I try and teach them not to be colorblind but to see color because diversity is a strength. I mean right now we are working on not biting and handling losing at Memory…so baby steps.

Don’t look away. Don’t bury your head. It’s so hard. So painful. But we can’t pretend it’s not happening. Racism. Transphobia. It’s all happening. Don’t look away. And 2021…just keep bringing it. I’m still here.

Divorce and Separation

Silver Sequins

About twelve years ago I went to Lilith Fair. Back when we could gather in large crowds and not fear catching a life ending disease. Back before kids. Before my master’s program. Before marriage. And definitely before divorce. I attended with my sister, her now ex-wife, and several of her now ex-friends, and my soon to be ex-wife not even wife then. Simpler times.

It was before I finally admitted to myself that I can live the rest of my life without a live concert unless it’s in a theater with wine or champagne at intermission. Yes. I’ve become a snob. But 23 year old me was not a snob yet. I was okay tail-gating on a hot day. Sweating. Dancing in the sun. Using port-a-potties and drinking too much beer. We sat on the lawn and watched as the great and beautiful Sara McLaughlan came on stage. She was so far away I couldn’t see her face except when I looked at the large screen.

She has a quiet grace and confidence that spoke to me. She never compromised her art to be popular. I feel that. She’s an Aquarius like me. I feel she and I would understand each other. It’s an Aquarius thing.

I remember she wore a top with silver sequins and she was probably in her 40’s and me in my 20’s had no idea what she meant when she sat down and tried to explain the song she was about to sing. She smiled and with a freedom I understand now, but not then, she said something to the effect of, “It’s about where I was,” and she paused and smiled and said softly, “And I’m so glad to not be there anymore.” So simple. So pure and honest.

At the time I know she had separated from her partner and they would subsequently divorce. I was entering into a relationship then. I was just starting my career. I was naive and happy and dumb. I don’t regret that moment sitting on the grass pleasantly buzzed with friends, family, and my girlfriend. It was a great day and a great night and it captured what you feel as you stand on the precipice of life.

I’m glad I remember her silver sequins and how I thought I want to look like that when I’m 40. And I’m glad I remember the peace and calm that she emanated as she told a crowd of hundreds of strangers how happy she was then. How she had been through something. She survived. She thrived.

I’ve thought about that moment many times over the past decade. But more in the last five months since we separated. There are so many people who feel sad for you when you say you are going through a divorce. Or who assume I am unhappy or who assume this is a bad thing.

I just think of Sara in her silver sequins. Smiling. On the other side of whatever she had been through saying she was grateful for being through it. I’ve felt grief. I’ve felt sad. I’ve felt hurt. I’ve felt anger. But I’ve also felt peace. I haven’t worn silver sequins. But I have worn jeans. Actual jeans. That fit. If you’ve been living in the COVID world for the last year you understand why that’s a big deal. I’ve also worn new underwear. Because sometimes you have to start with your underwear to feel like a true new beginning.

#COVID-19 · homophobia · Mental Health Stigma Suicide · Nursing

Ten Things I’ve Learned as a Mental Health Provider During COVID-19

  1. People can only handle stress for just so long. When I explain chronic anxiety and depression to patients I often use the analogy of a teapot. When you are walking around filled up with stress/anxiety/trauma/depression for years eventually you do not have room for normal every day stressors. This leads to epic breakdowns over seemingly innocuous things. Did you ever cry when you couldn’t open a jar of sauce? Or start screaming when you can’t find your keys? We all have a boiling over point. February 2021, about eleven months in, seemed to be most peoples boiling point. In the Northeast we had a lot of snowstorms which I think compounded things for many of us. My practice received upwards of ten-fifteen calls a day just from new referrals, not counting our five hundred plus current patients who also all started to melt. These calls were desperate. Crying into voicemails. There were suicides in our communities. There were drug overdoses and relapses. February 2021 honestly was one of my hardest months as a mental health provider.
  2. Women bear the brunt of childcare and homeschooling responsibilities. This is a gross generalization. Please note I know that there are many wonderful Fathers and husbands who have supported their families during the pandemic in every way imaginable. But in my own practice I have seen my female clients taking responsibility for the organizing of homeschooling. They have described screaming matches with their partners about who has to sacrifice work time. I’ve had women clients leave their full time jobs, drop to part-time, and/or change positions in order to accommodate their children suddenly being home full or part time. I have seen women making sacrifices and publicly smiling but privately falling apart with grief, anger, and sadness.
  3. Minorities are under more minority stress. From the LGBTQ community to POC to children to the elderly. All vulnerable populations have been made more vulnerable. The death rates of COVID-19 are disproportionately higher in the African American communities. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/racial-ethnic-disparities/disparities-deaths.html Does a nice job of objectively presenting this evidence. The LGBTQ individuals who have lost jobs and been forced to move back in with homophobic and transphobic families are real. LGBTQ children, teenagers, and college aged individuals who have to live with homophobic and transphobic families is real. Suicide risk is high in this population already. The social isolation and inability to be “out” due to COVID-19 has added to these already significant issues for minorities. I literally have had telehealth sessions with a client crouched in a dark closet (and the irony of them being in a closet is not lost on us) in order to obtain privacy in order to cry in despair at not being able to be “out” and to have to experience homophobia and/or transphobia in every day life with their family. These sessions are gut-wrenching.
  4. Postpartum Moms and Dads have stress you can’t understand. I’ve often said the most unsolicited advice I ever received was during my pregnancy and in the first year of my twin boy’s lives. People who have been parents or not have opinions and stories and think everyone should hear them. Being postpartum regularly is hard. Being post partum during a pandemic when so little is known about the impact on newborn health is terrifying. Newborns can’t wear masks. Babies in daycares crawl and touch each other’s boogers. Parents have delayed putting their children in daycare because there is no true protection against exposure for infants. They are told that they are right, wrong, stupid, smart, and everything in between by people around them. I have never treated as many postpartum women as I have in the last year. SO much of it is providing reassurance that they are doing everything right. That there is no one right decision. That they know their baby and their lives best and they have to make the best decision for themselves. I offer validation and objectivity and I have seen them cry when I’ve told them they are doing everything right. Because no one has validated them since they gave birth. Unless you sit with people who have newborns day in and day out and see the agonizing choices they have to make; you don’t understand. And you shouldn’t be offering anything except validation and support.
  5. People NEED people. I’ve also said before I’m not a hugger. But the first time my friend and I hung out after we were both vaccinated and she asked if she could give me a hug and I enthusiastically consented. We weren’t big huggers before COVID-19 but after a year of isolation we unashamedly and laughingly embraced. One of the most poignant sessions in the last year, that has consistently stuck with me, was a young adult who lived alone and who did a Zoom with her family for Thanksgiving. Through tears she said, “I had to do a Zoom with my family. I just. want. to. hug. them.” Her breath hitched with each word and the tears turned to sobs and we sat for several minutes with her sobbing and me watching; neither of us speaking. I held back tears of my own as I wanted to reach through the screen and pat her shoulder and tell her it would all be okay. I heard so many of these stories but her vulnerable and raw pain in that moment touched my core. I had clients tell me their parents cried during their Zoom Christmas’ and they couldn’t stand to see their Mom cry. I sat with them through that pain. I offered nothing but space and understanding to feel pain. I have never known with such certainty after the holiday season of 2020 that we need physical touch to survive. We need our families. We need connection. Of all the long term sequelae that COVID caused, the isolation and desolation of being alone is by far the worst.
  6. Never underestimate the power of pets. I don’t have to explain much about this. If you have animals then you know what I am referencing. The isolation of this past year has made people get new pets and appreciate the ones they have. Pets are some of my clients purpose in getting out of bed every morning. They have truly saved lives this past year just by existing and offering unconditional love. To all our four legged friends, you have my true admiration and thanks.
  7. People who treated their mental illness before COVID faired better. One of my clients who was extremely ill a few years ago, but has since stabilized, greeted me smiling at our six month check in. She was doing great, and felt validated in her own experience of mental illness. “People know now how it feels to live with anxiety. I can now explain to people mental illness and they get it. Because their anxieties about COVID are exactly how I felt about everything all the time.” She wasn’t my only client who had severe mental illness in the past and stabilized with medication and therapy who have done excellent during the pandemic. They had coping skills, we knew what medications work for them, and they were connected to providers. My takeaway from them is to deal with your mental illness before you boil over.
  8. After people boil over Desperation sets in. I think it’s hard for some one to truly understand desperation until they have experienced it. Desperation is finding cuts on your childs arms or legs and bringing them to a hospital and being told they are not sick enough to be admitted and to connect to outpatient care, then calling forty providers and being told no one is accepting patients. Desperation is watching your loved one suffer and struggle and slip away and not be able to find them help. The mental health system’s flaws are fully exposed now. There are not enough providers. The providers that are in practice are un-paneling from insurance because insurers have made the last year so much worse than it needed to be for small practice owners. I have been screamed at on the phone more times than ever in my career when I call to tell people I am full or not accepting their insurance or not taking pediatric referrals. I have been threatened. I have been told through tears that they are desperate. I have been begged and pleaded with. I have been offered twice my normal rate just to fit some one in. I had to not return every phone call because I became fearful of what would be said to me when I told them I was not accepting patients. I had to hold my own boundaries and not take new patients in reaction to other people’s desperation. Because I was becoming burned out. I grew as a clinician and a business owner in the last year in more ways than I ever imagined. I also heard and saw desperation in ways I never imagined I would.
  9. I will always accept Medicaid. So many of my clients have been on and off Medicaid and commercial plans this year. Medicaid’s rates of reimbursement in my state are disgustingly low. But I will always have it as a plan I accept because my patients who lost commercial plans this year with job loss needed to have continuity with their mental health provider. I do not want my practice to be fully medicaid as that’s not sustainable revenue wise for a small practice. However, it will always make up a stream of our revenue because it has to be an option when clients lose jobs.
  10. Everyone has it bad. In the past year I’ve heard why the people in their 50’s and 60’s have it the worst. I have also heard why kids in high school, college, in their twenties, single people, married people, parents and non-parents all have it the worst. Every one thinks their lot is the worst. Young people are missing out on proms, college admission is being delayed in some cases, parents are overly burdened with childcare duties, single people are the most isolated, etc. I’m just throwing this out here; it’s been a shit year for everyone. There have been highs and lows for all ages all social statuses and in every way imaginable everyone has undergone stress, loss, and an understanding that things will never be like before. There is a before and there is a now and there will be an after but life will never be the same.

Through this past year of COVID-19 I have lived history. I am a front lines provider during a global pandemic. I have been through more personally and professionally than I could have imagined. My biggest and best takeaway from this past year though is to be grateful. I am grateful for my children. I am grateful for our health. I am grateful that I have been able to see my mom and sister, sister-in-law and niece, throughout the last year. I have known loss. I have grieved. I have cried. I have hoped.

About a month ago, I went to the office. I saw a long term therapy client for the first time in person for several months. He sat down, and I sat down. We both removed our masks. And we smiled. We were both vaccinated. The window was open. We sat eight feet apart. And then we had a therapy session in person without masks. It was possibly the most beautiful moment of the last twelve months.

#COVID-19 · mom of boys

Single Mom-ing it…COVID style

I’ve been slowly moving into single mom life as a business owner and mental health nurse practitioner. I gotta be honest it’s a bit of a roller coaster. I treat single mom’s. I am friends with single mom’s. I thought I had some understanding of life as a single mom. I sorta did. But there’s nothing that can prepare you for the utter exhaustion. The compromise of never having laundry folded unless my mom comes and folds it because I would never have any time snuggling the boys on the couch if I did all the things that needed to be done every day all the time. (And my mom can fold laundry way better than I can. It’s not one of my strengths.)

Single mom life is depending on grocery delivery services and being brought to tears when they don’t have something I ordered that I need for a recipe knowing there will be no time or space for me to hit a grocery store between now and said event requiring the baked item. There’s no running out to the store at 8 PM after bed time. Missing one item from a grocery order seems so stupid. I should get over it. But it’s always the little things that push me right over the edge I feel teetering on some days.

Single mom-ing it is making medical appointments and oil change appointments for myself. Then rescheduling them three times because daycare closed, one of them is sick, etc. I forgot a work conference recently. It was a day the daycare was closed. It was a rather horrendous day with them. I was never this person who reschedules appointments three times, misses a work call, and doesn’t have all the ingredients I need which leads me to buying a baked good item instead of making it.

I recognize how silly those things sound. What I haven’t mentioned yet are the nights of bad dreams, the nights of asking why their parents are separated, and the 24-48 hours a week without them when they are with my ex. It’s like a roller coaster of emotion every week. I love them. I don’t want to be angry or irritable because I’m overwhelmed. I get so tired if they have bad dreams or bad nights and crawl into my bed and then stick both their feet in my back. Then add on COVID and the random daycare closures, COVID tests, and general isolation etc. Super fun.

One of my good friends has also been through a divorce and single parenting adventure within the last year or two and it is validating when I text a minimal sentence about life sucking and she responds yup. Because I know she gets it. Because I know she knows that I know life doesn’t suck. It’s just hard. And it’s hard to act strong all the time. Because I can’t not be strong for my kids, and my employees, and my clients. I have a wall of strength up 100% of the time including at 2 AM wake-ups and it’s freaking exhausting.

I think the most frustrating part is that society puts these expectations on single mom’s to be Superwoman. It’s the expectation and if you don’t live up to it then you are lazy, dumb, sad, etc. If I don’t show up with a smile saying everything’s fine then people wouldn’t know what to do or say and they’d be uncomfortable. Because we as a society are uncomfortable with other people’s pain.

We have isolated ourselves to the point where we lack community unless we forge it ourselves.

I am grateful for my own community of friends I have forged over the years. I feel lonely, but I know I can pick up the phone and call any one of my friends or family and I could have somewhere to go, some one to talk to, and if I wanted it, some one to grab a drink with. I have friends I share my location with if I meet some one from the horrible land of online dating. That’s a whole other blog post. Or several. I think so far though the best line at a first meet was, “We should be in a motel room fucking right now.” Because honestly. What woman doesn’t want to hear that on a first date? From some one with more degrees than I have. Awesome. I told him he was on the wrong app; He should have used Tindr or paid for a hooker. (There was not a second date and no I did not join him in a motel room and this is not a judgement against people who go to a motel room on the first date. You do you boo).

But I digress. My point to that was I have friends I trust and who are totally there for me. I know there are so many single parents who don’t have that. Who are completely isolated. I feel for them. Hard. My sister-in-law said today she never understood the intensity and importance of parents around nap time until she became a parent. Same for single parenting. I never understood the nuances and the highs and the lows and the dichotomy of feeling like you never get alone-time while feeling incredibly lonely at times.

Don’t go around pitying every single parent you know now. Just connect with them. Be a person to them. Because that’s the one thing I’ve learned. I need people. Friends. Family. Even horrible first dates. Connection is mandatory to survive this life of feeling alone.

Those 24-48 hours a week without my kids are painful. My friend with split custody told me to distract myself. It will still hurt. But it will help. She wasn’t wrong. Distraction is key. Invites to stuff with kids even when I don’t have my kids also help. I still see my sister/sister-in-law/niece on days I don’t have the boys. Don’t stop inviting single parents when they don’t have their kids. On the flip side keep inviting them to couples stuff. I don’t mind being a single person at a couples get together. It would bother me more to be left out by my good friends.

And finally my last word of advice is to be a person they can not be smiling and strong in front of. Not that I feel the need to cry or scream or break down on the daily…because I don’t. But being able to be real and say yeah sometimes I’m not okay has been crucial to my own mental health. I am so incredibly fortunate to have friends who are okay with me not being okay. I know not every one has that. I have never realized the utter gut wrenching importance of having those people until this past year. Be that person for some one else. We need you.