Down the Rabbit Hole

As I became a mother, a phrase entered my mind about the experience: “I was falling down the rabbit hole.”

I need to explain.

I did not attach to my own parents. In particular, I did not attach to my mother. In fact, part of my own work through the ten plus years in cognitive behavior therapy was to deal with my own attachment disorder. In addition, I have not had any contact with my birth parents in fifteen years. They have not met my child, nor will they. When he is an adult, he can choose whether or not to initiate the contact. But for now, I will not allow that happen out of protection for him.

My mother was not a woman meant for motherhood. When I was born, due to her untreated mental illnesses and various physical difficulties from my birth, I was given to various family members for care. Up until approximately the age of two, I was under the care of grandmothers and aunts.

In particular, one aunt provided extensive care for me. Later in childhood, my birth mother told me this aunt did not like me and gave disturbing details about my personal flaws that bothered this aunt. It was extremely confusing as I had imprinted this aunt as a caregiver. In fact, even the smell of grape juice reminded me of her. During communion at church when the smell of grape juice wafted through the sanctuary, I would think of this aunt as she served grape juice at breakfast. She always had it available. I would smell it and see the flower pattern on her carpet and think about the texture of her table. Then my mind would condemn itself for not focusing on God during communion and thinking about a woman my mother had told me hated me so much.

I know the truth now. This aunt was pained to see the situation I was in with both my mother and abusive father. But, families keep secrets.

When I decided to become a mother, I was certain that attachment was a priority due to my own pained journey. But, when you have not attached to your own parents, how does attaching to your child feel or happen? Simply, it is like falling down the rabbit hole.

For my journey attaching to my son, there was a pivotal moment. I remember my son being approximately two months old and I was changing his diaper. He looked up at me with his big, sweet eyes. And my heart stopped. I scooped him up with tears in my eyes and took him to lie down together. I cuddled him and softly cried. He fell softly asleep, secure that his momma had him. My heart felt so big and I felt so small.

Despite everything, my son and I are securely attached. We cuddle. He naps on me. He comes to me with his concerns during his toddler activities. He celebrates his discoveries with me. He expresses his frustrations at me. We are attached and continue on the attachment journey.

I have traveled down the rabbit hole… I have found aspects that have made me so small… and have been bigger than big.

You can attach to your child when you have not attached to your own parents. But, you have to be ready for that journey as it is a journey into an unknown world and down a rabbit hole.

World Suicide Prevention Day

Today, September 10th, is World Suicide Prevention Day. A day to open the dialogue concerning this hushed topic.

I want to share a link to Stigmama.com where I wrote a guest article concerning this important topic. The article is titled “Hope vs. Shame” and chronicles my own experience. 

May we change the world to one of hope and leave the shaming behind.

http://stigmama.com/2014/09/10/hope-vs-shame-karren-johnson-wspd-stigmama/

#wspd #hope 

 

Stepping Out in Faith

It has been one month since I transitioned from college professor to stay-at-home mother. This decision was the best decision I could absolutely make for my son and I’s well-being.

I have always been one who drives myself hard. I vividly remember the summer before my sophomore year of high school and attending the Kansas State Student Council Conference. The speaker was discussing motivation. He stated we should always strive for “harder, faster, higher, stronger.” I took that in to my core. I actually took it in to my detriment.

What many don’t know is that for me to finally admit to myself that my psychiatric illness has progressed to a point I can no longer balance my academic career with parenthood is a monumental achievement for me. To finally put the mantras of doing just a little more aside, is an achievement my psychiatric health providers thought they would never see.

There is also another aspect to this astounding achievement. I finally began to quiet the childhood messages I had been harboring for thirty years. Throughout my childhood, I was told how I was lazy or wouldn’t be able to work for a living due to my laziness. The repeated messages drove me to destruction. I would often work two or more jobs, teach overloaded semesters, or even drive ninety miles one way to work at a particular university just to prove to the universe that I was not lazy.

But, I finally said no to this self-sabotage. My illnesses were rapidly progressing, my cognitive decline was gaining momentum, and the most precious soul in front of me was growing faster every day. My doctor stated she respected me, but that my work ethic was my detriment and was hastening my demise.  And truly, at the end of the day, I had to ask who I was trying to prove my worth to… myself or the messages?

So, I stepped out in faith.

I now spend my days with my amazing child. I am also able to set up a routine for myself, which is so important for anyone with a schizophrenic disorder. There is not a lot of money rolling in; but, there never really was when I was teaching. Sometimes, the rewards of faith carry value that cannot be counted by dollar bills.

On the Other Side of Fear

When one decides to become a parent, fear is a common emotion. Even before this decision is made, some fear invades our thoughts more often than not at the consideration. But, what is on the other side of fear?

As someone living with mental illness, and also as someone who survived an abusive childhood, the concept of parenthood often carried a significant fear factor for me. Fear of passing on faulty genes. Fear of repeating damaging familial patterns. Fear of basically damning another innocent person to my same troubled existence. Fear encapsulated me. There was no other side.

But, let’s look at the genetics question. First, I am not the Creator; nor do I possess a crystal ball. I cannot foretell the future. My theoretical offspring could never have mental illness grip their life. Furthermore, did I, personally, feel that anyone who carried any genetics for any disease give up reproduction?

No. Never. Not at all.

Plenty of individuals with diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, asthma, and countless other issues have reproduced. If they lived on the other side of fear, why wasn’t I willing, as well? It was because of fear.

But, on the other side of that fear is a parent with a husband who has seen it all in mental health care. We could both see the warning signs, if they appear. We could advocate, support, and provide care. And most importantly, on the other side of that fear is love.

Then there was the aspect of my fear that was concerned with repeating damaging familial patterns. A very legitimate fear as we tend to repeat what we have learned along the way. But, I had to consider something powerful about my journey. At the age of twenty-three, I pro-actively entered therapy. In addition, along that therapy journey, that ultimately lasted thirteen years, I severed my ties with my parents and created my own life. I had addressed my familial patterns- except for the pattern of fear.  I still needed to view the other side of fear.

I had to push past the fear to the other side. I had to find the faith in myself that had been sequestered since day one. I had done the hard, arduous work; and now it was time to allow myself to live.

And I did live… and found on the other side of fear is joy. There is a joy in the form of a beautiful boy who is my all and that I would protect with my all. I pushed past the fear and arrived on the other side.

I am Momma- standing on the other side of fear.