My Own Story

Currently, I have 10 blog drafts saved. Ten times I’ve started writing, and ten times I haven’t finished a post. When it comes to writing about my family, especially my children, it’s really not hard. The words to describe them and my experiences with them come to mind easily and it doesn’t take much for me to type them out. When it comes to writing about myself, on the other hand, it’s hard. It’s hard to get my thoughts straight in my head, and it’s even harder to type them. Sometimes I find myself thinking that if it’s so hard, maybe it’s a sign that I shouldn’t write a post about myself. But then I think of why I started this blog in the first place – to not only help myself, but to hopefully somehow help others through my experiences.

Then there’s the issue of where to start. I know I could stick to writing about my experiences as a mother, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Being a parent is hard and I know I can use all the support I can get when it comes to raising my children. The thing is, I’m not just a mom. I’m a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a school counselor. Sure, I could write about my experiences as being any one of those things. But there is one thing that has been weighing on me to write about for several months.

Mental health.

I know mental health has been getting more attention lately because of shootings and suicides, and I am thankful for it. It’s a topic that I’ve become increasingly interested in and passionate about. However, mental health still has such a negative cloud surrounding it that most people are very hesitant to talk about it on a personal level – including myself. When it comes down to it, mental health is a topic that people seem to be willing to talk about when it is applicable to other people, but it is because of that that I think that there is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding. For me, mental health is deeply personal because of my work as a school counselor but more because of my experiences. So before I write any other of my thoughts about mental health outside of myself, I feel that it is important to share my own story, as hard as it may be.

So here goes nothing:

This past spring I started going to a counselor. I had thought about going to a counselor a couple of different times over the past decade or so but never did, and after a while, the things that were bothering me and the hard feelings I was having seemed to get resolved.

This time it was different. I knew that I needed professional help. It’s like the difference between a summer cold and a sinus infection – when the over-the-counter medication isn’t enough and you know it’s time to go see a doctor to really take care of the problem.

Before I continue, let me be clear on one thing: My life is wonderful. I have been blessed with amazing people whom I love and I know love me. I have a strong Christian faith, go to church as regularly as I can, and pray daily for myself and others. I have a loving, supportive husband and two healthy children. I have a strong circle of family and friends that love and support me. I have the best dog in the world. I have a career that is fulfilling in so many different ways and also provides financial support for my family’s needs and wants. I have the security of a safe home and reliable vehicles. I have an almost-full wine rack. I have a lot of great things in my life. Aren’t all of these things enough? Shouldn’t all of this be enough for me to be happy? Why did I need to go see a counselor?

Because life is hard. It’s busy and stressful and overwhelming. Over time, I found myself feeling like I was drowning in the sea of being a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and counselor. I love all of the roles I play in this life, but to fulfill them well takes time and energy – mostly mental and emotional energy.

And because I have depression. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact. It’s no one’s fault, just like it’s not my fault that Moses has an extra chromosome. Just like someone who exercises regularly and eats healthy foods might still have a body that doesn’t produce the correct level of insulin her body needs. I’m not a bad person because of it no more than a diabetic is a bad person. Even with all of the blessings in my life, my brain doesn’t just “do” happy easily. It doesn’t mean that I need to be committed to a mental hospital because of it just like Moses doesn’t need to be institutionalized because he has Down syndrome. It just means that I have to do things differently so that I can feel and be happy and fully enjoy my life.

I was first diagnosed with depression when I was around 21. I can remember going to the student health center at college and telling the nurse practitioner that I wasn’t feeling okay. After telling her about how I had been feeling and filling out a questionnaire, I was told that I had depression. I was scared, sad, and relieved. Scared because I didn’t quite know what that meant for me. Sad because there was something “wrong” with me. Relieved because I was finally going to get help to feel better.

I was prescribed an antidepressant and left with an appointment to see a counselor. The medication worked like it was supposed to. The appointment with the counselor did not. Part of my depression was low self-esteem and body image issues that I had been battling for many years. The first counselor I went to was beautiful and thin and proceeded to tell me about how either she or her daughter had been models. The next counselor I went to gave me some worksheets. I’m not sure I even talked much to him that day, and I never went back. I was done with talking to counselors. Besides, the medication seemed to do the trick to help me feel mentally healthy. I didn’t know it then, but I still had a long way to go.

Fast-forward almost ten years to when I started the counseling program. In the decade before starting the program, I had been through A LOT of ups and downs (I’m talking mountains and valleys). During my time in the program, I was not only learning how to help others, I was also able to learn more about myself and work through many of the issues that I struggled with. I learned so much about mental health and even more about how counseling works, especially that there are different approaches to counseling. That’s when I realized that the counselors I had seen previously used approaches that just weren’t a good fit for me. I learned how to talk about and work through some of the issues that had been haunting me. It was also during this time that I met a person that provided me with the sense of love and security I had been searching for since leaving my parents’ care.

For a while, my depression seemed to be in remission. I was able to stop taking medication and was able to maintain a healthy mental state. After Josie was born, it was as though she was my antidepressant. Watching her grow and find excitement and happiness in the little things of everyday life was every bit as good as Zoloft.

When I went back for my 6-week check-up after having Moses, I already knew I had postpartum depression. No, it was not because he had Down syndrome. If anything, my new little baby boy was just another light in my days. It wasn’t even because of the fiery pain of having mastitis multiple times within a 3-week period. I had postpartum depression because that’s how my brain reacted after having a baby.

It wasn’t until this past spring that I knew I needed more than medication this time. Yes, medication helped me be able to function like a more or less normal human being. What medication doesn’t do is get rid of the daily stressors of my hectic life. It doesn’t solve problems for me. It doesn’t listen to me and then help me figure out changes I can make to actually get rid of sources of stress or solve problems.

Unfortunately, saying, “I’m going to a counselor” is almost like saying, “I’m crazy”, and not in the fun, adventurous way. I know that mental health is a very real thing, just like physical health. However, it’s also often dismissed or minimalized or stigmatized in such a negative light that many people do not fully address it, perhaps out of fear of being labeled for going to see a counselor or psychiatrist, or maybe because they don’t know how to go about improving their mental health. If I tell someone I went to see the doctor, there’s little to no reaction outside of asking if I’m feeling okay. When I say I went to see my counselor, there’s a very different reaction – it’s almost like people panic because they don’t know what to say although they could respond with the same question of if I’m doing okay. That in and of itself actually put more stress on me, but in the end, I knew I had to go talk to a mental health professional.

As much as I love my husband, my parents, my siblings, and my friends, they couldn’t help me with those things, either. Not because they didn’t want to, but because they aren’t counselors. They aren’t trained to listen to me ramble on with unconditional positive regard. They listen with unconditional love, but that’s not the same thing. Listening with unconditional positive regard means that no judgment is cast about what I’m saying or feeling. It means that I don’t have to censor my words out of fear of hurting the person listening. It means that I don’t have to cut out certain parts of the story out of fear of disappointing the person listening.

Talking to a counselor is also different because she doesn’t say anything to intentionally or unintentionally minimize my experiences or feelings. She doesn’t tell me that I should just accept things as that’s how they are or tell me what works for her which should also work for me. She doesn’t get uncomfortable when I talk about very personal issues and try to change the subject.

She listens. She points out things I say repeatedly or inconsistency in my thoughts. She reframes what I say in a way that helps me to understand how I really feel but couldn’t (or didn’t want to) pinpoint it on my own. She helps me as I start to figure out what I could do to get myself back on track. She doesn’t solve my problems for me, but she helps me figure out how to find the solutions that will work for me.

I think what helped me as much as talking to my counselor was knowing that I was taking an active responsibility and role in helping myself get better. No one else can do it for me.  No one else can “make” me happy. That’s all on me, and I’m working on it every day. I think that’s where mental health takes such a personal turn – it really is up to the individual to make improvements whether by taking medication as directed by a doctor, talking to a counselor/therapist, exercising regularly, meditating, praying, getting enough sleep, or a combination of multiple things.

I hope that mental health will become more understood and positively accepted as part of a person’s whole health in the coming years. I’m not saying that everyone who has a mental health issue broadcast it for the world to know. I do hope that anyone who is having a hard time mentally or emotionally look to get professional help and know that it’s no different than going to a medical professional for a physical health issue. If someone you know is taking steps to improve his or her mental health, give that person all the love, support and encouragement you can.

Finally, I didn’t write this so that anyone will feel sorry for me any more than I wrote it so that anyone would label me as crazy. My genuine hope is that it might help to normalize and prioritize the subject for mental health for more people. If you want to feel sorry for me or call me crazy, I obviously can’t stop you, but I will ask that you pray for me while you’re at it. 😘

The “Risk” of Having a Child With Down Syndrome

This is the response my best friend wrote yesterday:

Screenshot 2018-06-25 at 3.06.28 PM

She wrote it in response to seeing this on her Facebook news feed:

Screenshot 2018-06-25 at 3.06.48 PM

She didn’t tell me about it. I just happened to see it as I was scrolling through Facebook after Josie and Moses went down for their naps. I felt as though my heart stopped for a second, and then I started to cry. Those first tears were from being so thankful that she would speak up for Moses and every other baby/child/person with Down syndrome. Then I started reading through the comments others were posting about their own children with Down syndrome. That’s when the tears of sadness and anger started. There were multiple comments describing how upon learning that the results of genetic screening tests indicated the baby had Down syndrome, mothers were encouraged to abort the baby or start the process to give it up for adoption.

WHY?????????? Why should a baby with Down syndrome, or any other birth defect or disability, not be given a chance at life? The chance to be loved and to give love in return? The chance to prove that every life is precious and that every baby that is born is going to challenge his or her parents in some way? The chance to be allowed to grow up and perhaps change the minds of those who believe that they should have never been born? The chance to change the world?

Are these kids so “risky” that they should be kept separate from the general population so as to not subject others to their almond-shaped eyes, flat profile, and slightly smaller ears? Do the “normal” people need to be shielded from seeing a person with Down syndrome’s tongue sticking out or the horizontal line that runs across the palm of their hand? Are doctors afraid that it might be too much for parents and the rest of society to deal with the low muscle tone or speech impairments that people with Down syndrome tend to have? Are they leary of joy that could follow after being around a person that is quick to smile and still get excited by the little things in life? Should these “risky” children should be eliminated before they become such burdens to society?

These are just some of the questions that I would love to ask those doctors that encourage termination of a baby with Down syndrome. I want to know the goal, the purpose, they have in mind when they suggest a parent give up their unborn baby, many times before having 100% confirmation that the baby does in fact have Down syndrome.  Are they trying to create the perfect society? Are they trying to spare the parents from heartache and pain? If that’s the case, then can they also figure out how to screen to know if a person will grow up to become a bigot? A racist? A drug-dealer? A human-trafficker? A murderer? A sociopath? A doctor that will support the killing of babies that are not “perfect”? Because if you ask me, those are the burdens to society. How many people with Down syndrome are in jail? Have restraining orders taken out against them? Intentionally cause harm to others? Encourage another person to end another human’s life? Hmmmm….

I do not like controversy and I do not like confrontation. HOWEVER, when it comes to this issue, I will not stay quiet and I will not back down. I will fight for the rest of my life to end the negativity that still surrounds Down syndrome despite all the positivity that surrounds people with Down syndrome and those that know them. Perhaps in the future, someone writing an article on the “risks” of having a baby with Down syndrome should contact the real experts – the parents of children with Down syndrome.

As for those doctors and anyone else that supports the termination of a baby because it has Down syndrome or any other disability or birth defect, I will pray for them. I will pray that they have a change of heart and choose to support the life of someone like Moses. For those doctors that do not change their views, I will pray that they lose their medical license so that they are no longer a burden to the Down syndrome society. I’ll let God decide which prayer to answer.

[Note: I will say that I did read the article and it doesn’t necessarily support the abortion of a baby with Down syndrome. It does give information about genetic testing and even goes on to say towards the end that the information that the baby has Down syndrome can help doctors monitor the pregnancy more closely to ensure the health of the baby. However, by using the term “risk”, the author did reinforce the thought that having a baby with Down syndrome is a negative thing. I am not okay with that.]

 

To Parent or Not to Parent…

Some guys don’t think they want to be a dad. Maybe it’s because they’re not sure they have what it takes to be a parent…the time, the attention, the patience, the commitment. Maybe it’s because they’re not sure they want to give the time, the attention, the patience, the commitment. To be honest, those were all the reasons I didn’t want to be a mom until I became one.

When we were dating, Tyson and I discussed our shared view on not having kids. We were both older (like real old…I was 29, he was 33) and very set in our independent ways. Kids did not fit in the vision we had for our future together of basically continuing doing whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.

Fast-forward 7 years and 2 kids later. This man was meant to be a dad. I know there are things that he misses about being kid-free, but when watching him with his children it’s easy to see he was made to be a dad.

Being a dad to a strong-willed, independent, opinionated little girl is not for the faint of heart. Tyson was made to be Josie’s Daddy. He is firm when he needs to be and the biggest pushover the rest of the time. When it comes to putting the kids to bed, Tyson is the parent that actually enforces a consistent, appropriate bedtime. However, as soon as that little girl comes walking down the hallway wanting to cuddle with Daddy and watch the football or basketball game with him, the word “No” is missing from his vocabulary.

Then there’s Moses. If there was ever a man designed to be a dad to a child with special needs, it was Tyson. Not because he works him overtime in his therapy or because he dismisses the fact that he has Down syndrome. It’s because Tyson looks at Moses and sees his son for who he is and just simply loves him. He expects out of Moses what he knows he can do and pushes him just the right amount. Tyson makes him do the correct signs for “eat” and “drink” and “thank you” during meals before he gives him something to eat or drink. Me? All Moses has to do is look at me, smile; and sign “more” and I’ll give him as many crackers as his little heart and belly desires. You don’t want to sign “all done”? Not a problem, baby boy!

It wasn’t on my mind at the time, but when I married Tyson, I married the perfect father for our children. He’s going to shape Josie into a well-rounded, respectful young woman and teach her what it looks like for a man to love and respect his partner in life. He’s going to do whatever it is that Moses will need to reach his full potential and be there for him every step of the way.

As for me, he’s going to fill my days with joy and happiness as I watch him be the best Daddy to our children that he can be.

He’s All Mine

I knew I was going to marry Tyson Moyers within a month of meeting him. From the get-go, it was just different with him, and by different I mean it was right. With Tyson there were no games, no wait-three-days-before-calling-her, no sleepless nights wondering what I did for him to just stop texting me. He liked me and he let me know it.

Because this was waaayyy different from what I had experienced in the decade before I met him, I was a little hesitant at first to trust that what I was seeing in him was real. It didn’t take me long to learn that Tyson Moyers was genuinely a good man. With him I could be myself without worrying if I was funny enough or smart enough or pretty enough or intriguing enough. He made me feel like I was simply enough by just being me. I had finally found my Prince Charming, and I was going to marry him.

Being married was the one thing I had wanted most after college. To me, marriage meant security and stability, two things that I craved after the roller coaster of my college years. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast in college. I loved being out of the fishbowl of my hometown, meeting new people, and just being responsible for taking care of myself. However, the lifestyle I was leading was very superficial and after a while I wanted something that was real and meaningful. In my mind, I was going to find that in marriage.

Dating Tyson was fun and exciting yet comfortable and secure. It was what I wanted for the rest of my life. When the weekend of our one-year anniversary rolled around, Tyson told me he was going to take me to dinner at a nice restaurant and then we were going to go back to the place where we were introduced. I was ecstatic. I was 99% confident that he had figured out he should marry me and that the proposal was going to happen on this romantic date he had planned.

It didn’t. I was pissed. I went to church the next morning and asked God to give me more patience since Tyson clearly wasn’t on my time schedule. I went back to his house to get ready to go to the lake and proceeded to pout and give so much attitude that he suggested I not go. Although that was tempting because I didn’t like him at all at the moment, I went to bathroom, had a good cry, then went outside and got in the Jeep. I started talking to him again about halfway to the lake, and by the time we got there I had talked myself into being okay with having to wait a little longer to get engaged.

About an hour later, he proposed to me out on the lake at the spot where we had our first kiss. I know I should’ve felt more remorse for my poor behavior that morning, but I was too busy being the happiest woman in the world.

I had finally found my match. The person that would both accept me and challenge me. The person that would be my rock in my hard times. The person that would encourage me and support me when facing life’s changes and challenges. The person who would put my happiness at the top of his list of priorities. I had finally found the person who would be for me what I would also strive to be for him.

Today marks our 7th anniversary. Has being married been all that I thought it would be? Yes and no. No, I didn’t think it would take as much work as it does to keep it on track. But yes, it has given me that sense of security and stability. Yes, life with him is real and it is meaningful. Yes, I still feel like I’m enough for him. Yes, through all the ups and downs we’ve encountered, Tyson remains my rock, my encourager, my supporter, my challenger, and best of all, my husband. And he’s all mine.

Show Mo Love – Step Up for Down Syndrome

Grateful, overwhelmed, humbled, thankful, blessed – these are the emotions I felt today. Twenty amazing people came to support the most important little boy in my life at the Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk in St. Louis. They didn’t have to – I know they love and support Moses unconditionally, yet they chose to spend the most beautiful Sunday at Forest Park with Tyson, Josie, Moses, and me. Then there are the other amazing people that bought shirts and/or made donations to show their love and support even though they couldn’t be at the walk. My goal was to raise $500 for this event. We raised over $1,000!

It wasn’t just the support of our family and friends that put my emotions into overdrive today, though. There’s no way to explain how it felt to look at the sea of people that were there today walking for a person with Down syndrome. At one point I caught myself thinking, “I can’t believe this many people are here just for a 1-mile walk.” Then I was close to tears as I thought that it has nothing to do with the walk – it has everything to do with the incredibly special people that it’s for. It’s actually not silly for my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew to drive down from Kansas City for this 4 hour event like I had thought to myself several times over the last few weeks. It’s important to them, it is extremely important to me, and it’s very important to the Down syndrome community.

Grateful, overwhelmed, humbled, thankful, blessed – these are the emotions I get to have because of the people who see my son and others with Down syndrome as people to be celebrated, not mourned or dismissed as they once widely were. From the bottom of my heart and with all sincerity, “Thank you!” to all of you that Step Up for Down Syndrome and Show Mo Love.

“Because He’s My Best Friend”

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/rachel-newberry-ben-robinson-promposal-burnsville-north-carolina/

This. Over the years of being on social media, I’ve seen videos and stories of “typical” kids asking peers with special needs to events like prom. This one seems a little different, though, because the reason the young lady asked her friend to prom is simply because he’s her best friend.

One of my many prayers for my children is that they are loved for who they are, not just a piece of who they are. I also pray that they look beneath the surface with others, too.

Reflecting on “Finding Out”

I wrote this a year ago and the words are still very true today:

Besides their birthdays, there are two dates that I will always remember with both of my children. They were the dates that it I literally felt my life change. With Josie, it was the day I found out I was pregnant. With Moses, it was May 24, the day I found out there was a 99% chance my baby would have Down Syndrome. We were packing up to go to the lake when I got the call from our midwife asking us to come in. I remember telling Tyson that she called, and he asked if there was something wrong. I remember telling him, “They usually don’t ask you to come in to tell you good news.”

When we got to the hospital and were told the results of the testing, the floodgates of emotions opened. While we had elected to have the genetic testing done, it was still shocking to hear those words. There was also a sense of relief that the news wasn’t worse. I burst into tears and tried to wrap my head around what I had just been told, but that only lasted for a few seconds because Josie came over to me clearly confused and scared about why mommy and daddy were crying. I picked her up, dried my tears, and said, “It’s going to be okay. This baby is going to be perfect and perfect for our family just like you.” That was the first of the pep talks I still give myself to try to convince myself that everything really will be okay.

The rest of that day was spent telling our parents, siblings, and best friends. Every conversation was difficult but they all resulted in the same message – we were not going to be alone in this. The immediate support we got was comforting and reassuring. Talking to my parents, my brother and sister, and my best friend also helped me to start working through the absolute jumble of thoughts and emotions I was going through. To be honest, Tyson and I didn’t talk a lot about it that first day. I think we were both too much of a mess to help each other.

Getting news that my baby will likely have a disability started me on an emotional roller coaster to say the least. There was the shock of finding that out. There was the guilt that maybe I did something to cause it. There was the sadness that my baby was likely going to have more difficulties in life from the get-go. There was the anger that my baby was likely going to have more difficulties in life from the get-go. There was the relief that my baby was going to survive and its disability was going to be mild compared to others. There was the confusion of how and why was this happening to us. Then there was, and still is, the anxiety of the uncertainty of it all.

When Tyson and I finally did talk about everything, it was hard at first because neither of us wanted to say anything to hurt the other person. In the end, we decided that we were going to love this baby and be the best parents to it just as we had been doing for Josie. We decided that we didn’t know what life was like with two kids and whatever that life ended up being like, that was going to be our new normal however it was. And that has held true for us to this day.

I’ve learned a lot in the last year and especially in the 7 months since Moses has been born. I’ve learned that God really doesn’t make mistakes and He truly does give you what and who you need in this life. I’ve learned that attitude and positivity is everything for me. Every day, I choose to focus on Moses’ strengths and successes instead of his weaknesses and struggles. I’ve learned that God has given me amazing people to help me through this, especially my husband. I’ve learned not to get too upset when people say insensitive things and how to address it when they do.

I decided to write this today not for sympathy or a pat on the back, but in the hopes that it will help even one person to know they’re not alone or to understand what it might be like for someone to go through something like this. It has helped me to finally “get it out there”. I purposely haven’t posted anything about Moses having Down Syndrome not because I wanted to hide it or because I was ashamed of it, but because I wanted people to fall in love with him for who he is. But not saying anything has left me feeling like I’m trying to hide a part of my son. Yes, Down Syndrome is a part of him, but it is not all of him. Simply put, every part of him is perfect and amazing.