Covid-19 and Black Trauma

I haven’t written in a few months.  Its hard to even focus long enough for this short piece.  I was on a roll feeling good and then Covid-19 changed everything. I am lucky because I can still work from home and I am grateful to be employed by our family business. There are days when I just don’t get to work and my dad understands. Homeschooling 3 kids is a lot. Not having the time and space to decompress alone has been a real struggle. But by far the most challenging and unexpected part has been dealing with the overwhelming presence of racism and white supremacy coaxed out by the virus. And let me be clear I always expect white supremacy and racism to weave its way through my daily life, I foolishly didn’t expect it to be a major side effect of Covid-19. 
 
I was prepared with toilet paper, sanitizer, and a well stocked snack cabinet.  What I didn’t think about was how I would handle report after report, post after post, and all the daily reminders that in this country equality is a luxury Black and Brown people can’t afford.  Not that forethought would matter, the trauma of racial inequity will always persist. Perhaps its the lack of escape that makes this burden unusually heavy. No Sunday family dinners, no backyard get togethers and no nights out with friends. No where to retreat and shut out the suffocating reach of white supremacy. Its everywhere. I see it in the packed subway cars in NY exposing Black essential workers.  Its in the lack of testing in urban areas and Congress debating over who deserves to struggle and who doesn’t. People are dying and to a large portion of the country it’s just collateral damage. 
 
I saw a white woman protest quarantine with a sign that said muzzles are for slaves and dogs, not people.  That message took the air out of my lungs. On the surface comparing wearing a mask for the protection of others to slavery was bad enough, but the underlying message cut deep.  Black people are nothing but slaves, we deserved to be tortured. (FYI Iron muzzles, gags and yokes were used to torture and break Africans into subordination) And we are no better than dogs. Well maybe not on the same level as dogs, they fair much better when it comes to advocacy than Black People in America.  Look at Central Park and Amy Cooper. The comments were filled with rage over the dogs treatment. I did not see the same level of care and concern for Christian Cooper’s life and mental well being.  I even wonder if the dog had not been part of the equation would it have elicited such a strong response.  Three different stories of white people falsely accusing Black people made national headlines this weekend.  Then the manifestation of that fear, lack of empathy and dehumanization puts its knee on George Floyd’s neck and murdered him.  
 
Image credit to Dee Wooten, 2020
Please do not say this is not what America is. This is the foundation of everything you hold dear. Its the freedom to threaten politicians and spit on police so you can have the right to expose people to a deadly disease in the name of profit, but only if you are the right complexion.  As documented over and over again, speaking up against real injustice will get you blackballed, beaten, arrested and killed. 
 
And with all this on my mind I have to remember to stay 6ft apart, but I need a hug.

Are you ready to comply with the airline’s new rules and regulations?

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With travel starting up again there are bound to be few new changes to what the airlines will be doing to ensure their passengers remain safe.  Some the new rules and regulations that the airlines will be implementing may not be easy for people to handle at first.  It will take some time for people to adjust to how long it may take to get through the airport, the new restrictions for boarding airplanes, and precautions while on the airplane. 

First let me say, after 9/11 there were many new rules and regulations put into place including TSA security.  We also were introduced to the scanners at the gate where each passenger had to scan their boarding pass.  This helped to ensure people were getting onto the correct flights and also security.  When these new rules went into place many people were up in arms.  They had to take off their shoes, belts, watches, and everything had to go through the x-ray machine.  It meant that the process to board an airplane went from a few minutes to now several hours.  It was an inconvenience at first, but after a few years it became the normal. 

New Airline Rules
Photo by Pixabay but together with Canva

People will adjust to the new rules and regulations but it will take time.  If you know some of the rules and regulations hopefully it will make it easier for you to travel.  Here are some of the changes you should expect to see in the coming months when it comes flying. 

  1. Boarding airplanes will be different. We may expect to line up similar to the way Southwest airlines lines up their passengers.  However, when lining up you will have some distance between you and the next boarding passenger.  Also, expect to have your masks on during the boarding process.  The gate attendant may not allow you to board without a mask on your face.  The scanning of boarding passes may change as well.  The scanning machines may be slightly larger having each passenger scan their own boarding pass whether it be paper or electronic. 
  2. It is time to FOG! Several airlines are “fogging” the interiors of all their aircrafts.  Fogging takes place while the planes are sitting each night, and some airlines are ensuring between flights as well.  According to the airline Southwest’s website, they are using EPA approved, hospital-grade disinfectant throughout the plane’s interior cabin spaces.  Here is the website to check out their sanitizing procedures:  https://www.southwest.com/promise/
  3. Sanitizing wipes! Yes, some airlines will be handing out sanitizing wipes to each passenger prior to boarding.  The airlines will be asking you to help sanitize.  Now you maybe thinking, why would they want me to sanitize if they are spraying down the planes.   This is more for your stuff to sanitize prior to boarding.  Sanitizing things such as phones, purses, laptop bags, headphones, computers, tablets, etc.  Anything that you have on you that could be contaminated.

    Sanitation for your safety
    Photo by Pixabay but together with Canva
  4. Expect delays in getting onto your plane after the previous flight deplanes. After the passengers deplane, the crew previously had anywhere between 10 – 30 minutes to turn around a plane.  This was to help ensure that airlines could keep up their “on time” status.  Ten minutes is not much time to disinfect an entire plane, so expect it to take longer now so they can spray and sanitize. 
  5. Who liked the middle seat anyway! It may be that the middle seat will not be available to book.  To give some space between passengers, the airlines have talked about not allowing people to book the middle seat.  If you are family of six and are used to taking up the entire aisle, you may now have to book two aisles.  It is unclear whether or not the airline would allow you to book the middle seat if your entire family is traveling together.  This may be something where you have to contact the airline directly. 

As a travel agent who travels a lot, I know that these changes by the airlines are not going to be easy.  I do expect that it will be an inconvenience, but my hope is that it will be temporary until the dust settles on the spread of COVID-19.  Afterall, Life is Better Traveling even if you have to Dream Now, Travel Later. 

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your upcoming travel and are looking to book with a travel agent, please make sure to feel free to contact me.  We are an Award-Winning Travel Agency that has helped thousands of clients travel to amazing destinations all over the world.  Our Life is Better Traveling travel agents are always here to help!

Becoming More Resilient Parents During Coronavirus

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Here in Pittsburgh, we’ve become accustomed to coronavirus quarantine since mid-March.

Since all that upheaval two months ago, things have sort of leveled off. We’re even starting to see some restrictions eased a bit as our region did quite well containing the virus. But there’s still that underlying sense of disappointment, loss, unease, discomfort, and dare I say it … grief.

Not because someone died (though we have experienced loss in my circle of family and friends during the past two months). Grief, because we’re mourning the loss of normalcy, of our old routines, of the old way of doing things. Grief, because we’re also mourning the loss of what we could have had but can’t now that coronavirus restrictions are in place across the country.

And, like many people, I struggled. Still do. Part of what helped me was learning more about resilience.

What is Resilience?

Resilience is being able to bounce back after failures, setbacks, tragedies, and the like. Resilient people do not falter when faced with tremendous hardship; instead, they find ways to not just cope, but pivot. It’s a characteristic that some people possess naturally, but it can be learned, too.

Teaching Yourself to be Resilient

Becoming more resilient parents helps us to raise more resilient children. For our teens, this is one of, if not the first, defining period of their lives so far when the entire nation grieved and reacted as one. My generation had the Columbine shooting, 9/11, the subsequent occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the recession in 2008 and 2009. Possibly the Gulf War, for my peers who are just a few years older. My 17-year-old stepson has lived through multiple school shootings in the news, but thankfully nothing that hits close to home. So for him, the feelings of unease and uncertainty on a national scale are truly unprecedented.

And for us, as parents, just because we’ve lived through at least one major national tragedy doesn’t mean we are able to cope with the fallout from coronavirus, especially when a lot of us are also trying to juggle working from home with the kids.

This one article in Harvard Business Review’s On Emotional Intelligence helped me to understand resilience better, and how to cultivate it. According to the article, resilient people have three characteristics:

  1. They accept the harsh realities facing them.
  2. They find meaning in terrible times.
  3. They can improvise, making do with what they have and adjusting as needed.

Step One: Accept Reality.

It begins with accepting things as they are, without denying the facts, sugarcoating the reality, or putting overly optimistic timetables in place. It’s not pessimism; it’s seeing the reality for exactly what it is at the present time and preparing yourself how to act accordingly. The goals are to endure, and to respond (not react).

So instead of saying something like “I bet things will reopen and get back to normal by Memorial Day/July 4th/etc” we instead prepare ourselves for a long recovery, with a transition that’s hard to plan for, that could change, and that when things reopen, it won’t be the same as it was before. If we keep that in mind, how can we plan our lives and our activities if we accept there isn’t a clear timetable?

You’ll remember I said above that the goals are to endure … and respond. When we respond to a situation, we have control over our actions, and we can see alternatives. When we react, we fly by the seat of our pants.

Step Two: Find Meaning.

The second step is to find meaning. It’s easy to react negatively with all this coronavirus mess. I have had more than my fair share of alcohol and food during quarantine … it’s a short-term coping mechanism that I seriously need to work on! Most of us have a space we go to in our heads that’s not entirely healthy when we’re faced with something big and uncertain and uncomfortable, like coronavirus. The goal here is to first acknowledge your feelings, give them validity … then move on.

How can we find a purpose in chaos? The article suggested envisioning where you want to be when the really hard stuff is over. Where do you see yourself? How can you use that vision to create concrete goals for yourself now? A friend of mine is using this time to work out more often and get in better shape, even though he’s laid off. My sister-in-law enrolled in a digital marketing certificate program with Duke University. A friend’s stepdaughter has used this time to learn how to cook and get crafty with DIY projects.

Me? I’m finding meaning in the day-to-day things that I am thankful for but haven’t been able to envision a long-term goal yet. What has helped me is to practice gratitude and try to get more sleep.

Step Three: Improvise.

And third, continually improvise. Make the most of what you have and try to imagine possibilities that maybe didn’t exist before. In our daily lives, this can be as simple as putting dinner together with a hodge-podge of ingredients. Or creating a life size version of a game, like that one family did with Hungry Hungry Hippos. There’s always been camping in the back yard as an option or using paid time off to just stay at home and relax instead of taking a trip.

What’s your parenting contingency plan going to be, in other words? Let’s start by thinking like our kids, who operate out of sheer curiosity half the time. My toddler likes to throw the same two-piece plastic ball at the floor to find out how he can break it open, for example. My 19-month-old daughter will eat a granola bar sideways. No idea why she does it; but she experimented with different ways of biting it and for her, sideways works best (until it splits in two). My point is, let’s continue to get inventive about how we spend our time and what we do with our families.

My son, Gabriel. *original photo*

Learning to become more resilient isn’t as easy as 1-2-3, and it’s a circular process. We have to keep going back to remind ourselves of certain things, like finding the good in the bad. Hopefully though, we can learn to become happier, more present parents who can guide our kids through this pandemic with a little bit more clarity and thoughtfulness. And wine. Always the wine.   

Why you shouldn’t put your camera down during a pandemic

Several summers ago we took our kids on a road trip vacation to the Delaware shore. I was eight months pregnant with my third child and the entire trip was a nightmare start to finish. Sleep schedules were off, I had to give my toddler the Heimlich maneuver, and my older son ran out into the road in front of oncoming traffic. Yet they both LOVE pulling out our album from the trip, reminiscing about how fun it was to dance among the stars and run their toes in the beach sand. Kids’ memories are selective that way. 

In the first few weeks the schools were closed for the Covid-19 pandemic, my kids craved the attention of their friends. We set them up on the Facebook messenger app and allowed them zoom meetings and online video games. But as time passed, they asked for those connections less and less often. Last week I asked my five-year-old if he was anxious to return to school. He hugged me and said “No, I don’t like being around other people anymore.” 

kids are playing with bubbles outside

It is too soon to know how deeply the social distancing and constantly present fear of the virus will affect our children’s mental health, and how that effect will present itself. But it IS affecting the way that we spend our time together. 

I am pretty sure I have never had as much “quality time” with my kids as I do now during the pandemic. Even as I wrestle with mom guilt over allowing them an unseemly amount of screen time, we are also treasuring the lack of pressure to BE somewhere or DO something. Instead of packing them up for the Science Center, we hike through nature and look for bugs. My kids build fort after fort after fort. Even my toddler jumps from pillow to pillow, avoiding the ‘lava’ floor. 

THIS is what our kids will remember about quarantine: these simple times together. 

boys playing board games at the dining room table with dad

As I age I rely on pictures of my childhood to recall those times clearly, photographs printed from film that together fit into one small bound album covering my first 18 years of life. We are lucky to live in the age of digital, having such a simple and always-present tool to capture memories with: our cell phones. With every picture we take we have the power to help shape our children’s memories, too, because these pictures are ultimately for them. 

I will be printing an album of pictures chronicling our family life in quarantine, and it will be chock full of nature hikes, mud jumping, running amongst bubbles, and catching fireflies. Because I know that, like the Delaware road trip album, my kids will be pulling the quarantine album off the shelf to reclaim their memories and reminisce. And I plan to help them remember all the good times. 

toddler in pajamas laughing and running through house while family sits at the table in the background

“Suffering in silence is no longer an option” One woman’s story of healing. By Rochelle Leeper

May is Maternal Mental Health Month — giving us all an opportunity to pause and reflect on the mental and emotional health of moms and moms-to-be.

At Allegheny Health Network, we are devoted to caring for women — all of her, all of her life. A large part of that is focusing on a woman’s mental and emotional well-being and stepping in to support her when she needs us.

Our Women’s Behavioral Health Program helps women heal — with a special focus on moms affected by postpartum depression. We’ve also championed MyWishForMoms.org — a blog about real experiences, real struggles, and real solutions.

As we work together to break the stigma of postpartum depression — we bring you Rochelle’s story, a mother of three and a postpartum depression survivor. Read her story, told in her own words. 


When I first began to think that I had postpartum depression, I was in denial. The stigma connected to the diagnosis had always seemed negative — those who had it were usually on the news for killing their children and society attacked the truth of the claim. Accepting such a label came with the feeling of defeat and being a bad mother. How could I, Rochelle, have postpartum depression?

I felt guilty for how I felt because I was blessed to have the ability to birth a child and have a husband who is a hands-on partner and parent. I had just graduated with my bachelor’s degree in social work and worked for child protective services in my local county. I had provided children a safe place to live and worked with parents who had different mental health issues. Yet, I found myself depressed — sitting in the dark, with no television, barely eating, with a newborn baby and breastfeeding. 

When I Googled postpartum depression, I didn’t match what the internet described. I didn’t want to harm my baby. I still enjoyed parenting my other two children. And, it didn’t mention starting to strongly dislike your spouse for lack of understanding.

Suffering in silence

From this point, only two weeks after giving birth, I decided I would suffer in silence and get over this emotional hump by myself. My plan to avoid addressing my feelings was this: I would sit in the same spot, all day, after dropping the children off at school. When my husband returned from work, I’d turn on the television and find the strength to be happy to see him and the children. Sadly, the more I hid my feelings, the worse the depression became.

One day, as my husband came into the house, he asked me: “Have you been sitting there all day in the dark?” I responded “yes,” but he didn’t make anything big out of the answer. I attempted to address my feelings with other family and friends. They either downplayed my feelings or expressed the seriousness of postpartum depression and how I could be involuntarily committed into a mental health facility.

There I sat for another week, screaming literally on the inside and outside for help. I am considered the “strong friend” of my group — so at my moment of weakness — nobody thought I had an excuse to not clean, cook, or bathe. They thought I’d shake the feeling in no time. My mother and friends kept saying that I should just stop breastfeeding. That made me very angry because the last thing I needed was another reason to feel defeated and like a bad mother.

Reaching out for help

It wasn’t until I took the baby to his 1-month checkup and his doctor gave me the postpartum depression screening that I sat asking myself: “Do you really want the help or not?”

In the African American community, mental health isn’t addressed. Those who do address it are often labeled as “crazy.” Being in the field of social work gave me the knowledge that if I was honest on the screening, exposing my mental health crisis, the doctor and I were then held responsible for the information. I completed the screening honestly and felt relieved of the mental prison I sat in everyday alone because no one understood the thoughts that ran through my head.

The doctor and the nurse walked back in the exam room and I saw the alarm on their faces. They recommended I contact my OB-GYN, who referred me to the Women’s Health Behavioral Center at AHN. Finally, someone heard my silent cry for help.

Throughout my time receiving counseling for postpartum depression, things got worse before they got better. I refused medication for a year. My marriage felt most of the effects, and I even purchased divorce papers. My counselor and close family and friends talked me off that ledge, but I felt as if my husband didn’t understand and wasn’t supportive of my current mental state. Just like I did, he did his research on postpartum depression, and he didn’t believe I had it because I didn’t match the criteria.

It wasn’t until I began to have suicidal thoughts that he realized it was deeper than just mood swings. Those suicidal thoughts became worse by the day until finally, I texted my sister something that frightened her. Once I got to the children’s school, one of the teachers asked me if I was OK, and I broke down crying. I told her about my suicidal thoughts. From there, my husband and sister talked to me and I called my counselor and agreed to medication.

Moving forward

Today, I’m able to look back and see that my husband was very supportive with the knowledge he was given. I’m happy we were able to get back on track, even stronger than before.

This experience did leave me to wonder: How many marriages end due to untreated postpartum depression? And where are the support groups for the husbands and mates that have a partner experiencing such an emotional diagnosis?

As I pursued my master’s degree in social work, I was required to write about a mental health diagnosis. I chose postpartum depression just to gain more information and was shocked by the results. The fact that there is no clear indicator of how one develops postpartum depression was mind blowing.

Throughout my postpartum counseling, I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which stem from the trauma of my childhood. Although I am in a better mental space and was able to heal from some of the childhood trauma on this unexpected journey, I am still left with unanswered questions. One of the major questions is, if I wouldn’t have experienced such childhood trauma, would I have still experienced postpartum depression? Is my daughter likely to experience it even though she doesn’t have the childhood trauma? And, as a social worker, is treating postpartum depression through therapy enough if we still don’t have enough information on what causes it?

While we wait for these answers, the only thing I can do is share my honest experience with other women to let them know suffering in silence is no longer an option. Heal, sister.

If you or someone you love is suffering from postpartum depression, please contact AHN’s Women’s Behavioral Health Program at 1-866-951-6390

This sponsored post is brought to you in connection with our partnership with Jefferson Hospital, part of Allegheny Health Network.

The Tale Between Two Pregnancies

Six years ago I was pregnant with baby number one. I was every pregnant woman’s dream. I had no morning sickness. I wasn’t nauseous. I didn’t start to feel uncomfortable until after 30+ weeks. I felt great. My pregnancy was easy compared to what some of my
friends were going through.

I don’t know if it was first time mom excitement, but being pregnant with baby number one was a breeze.

Here I am six years later and oh my God why is this so hard?

This pregnancy is so vastly different from my first that for the first three months I thought we were having a girl. Spoiler alert: It’s a second boy!

Since day one of finding out I was pregnant, I have felt awful. A new symptom comes every few weeks and other symptoms often repeat themselves. First it was feeling nauseous, then came the excruciating headaches, and then I had to give up coffee! With my first pregnancy I still stuck to my one cup a day. This little one made me give it up within the first 8 weeks.

I’m twenty-two weeks in and I’m still waiting to feel some sort of normal. But, I’m growing a human so that’ll probably be well after delivery.

20 weeks pregnant

I still get nauseous. The first trimester exhaustion has doubled instead of disappearing. The headaches are estrogen headaches and not caffeine withdrawal. I haven’t gained much weight, but I feel so uncomfortable morning, day, and night.

My hips move out of place where I yell in pain. My abdomen is being stretched so I feel cramps and soreness regularly. I can cry at any given moment because this is all so overwhelming.

Many of these differences are physical, but some are also normal pregnancy related symptoms.

I feel like I had more cravings with the first. This one I’m definitely having more food aversions. But, not to chocolate chip cookies. I mean who refuses chocolate chip cookies?

The heartburn came super early and my chocolate chip cookie addiction mentioned above does not help.

I keep a water bottle near my bed because I am so thirsty no matter how much water I’ve drank throughout the day. Then of course I have numerous bathroom breaks throughout the night.

The dark circles under my eyes do not lie as I may go to bed early, but I’m still not getting much sleep.

My friend recently asked me if I thought my pregnancies would be similar. Um, yes! I did not expect the huge difference between the two.

Maybe I feel so different because I’m six years older or because I have a five-year-old to look after. Being quarantined and working from home while watching my son isn’t helping much.

So if you see me I’ll be impatiently waiting for September to arrive so I can finally have that well deserved glass of wine!

What My Son’s Photography Taught Me About Self-Appreciation

My three year old son has a fascination with my iPhone camera.  Pretty typical stuff for a three year old.  He likes to walk around my house and record random objects, or take 50-60 selfies in the span of a few minutes. 

We’ve been stuck at home together for the past few weeks, as have many families, and I decided to teach him how the camera should work.  “Look here,” I said, “you look at the screen to make sure you can see what you want in the square, then you hit this little white button.”  It was a perfect quarantine activity to eat up an hour or two of our day.  He pointed my phone at me and I could see him furiously pushing the shutter button. “Look mommy!” He said, proudly showing me the shots he’d taken of me.

Oh god, I look so old, was my first thought.  Look at all those wrinkles around my eyes.  And those dark circles! The no makeup look had been my standard for the past 5-6 weeks.  But hey, I look way skinnier than I expected!

I started thinking about how to make the picture more appealing.  Could I Facetune my teeth to be whiter?  Use the smoothing effect on Snapseed around my eyes?  Maybe I should just delete it, he won’t know the difference.

Then a new thought came.  Those laugh lines are well earned

When I was pregnant with my oldest child, I remember being afraid of what motherhood would turn me into.  I saw joyless moms who seemed bothered by their kids and didn’t seem to laugh or smile too often.  As someone who enjoys making others laugh, and likes to be overly silly at times, I had an irrational fear that motherhood would take away my sense of humor.  Three years later, I’m obviously more responsible and serious at times, since I am in charge of a couple of tiny humans, but I’m also the same goofy girl who does some pretty ridiculous stuff for a laugh. 

I delight in making my kids laugh.  I belly laugh myself when they do or say something funny.  I don’t hold back with my boys, and it makes our relationship stronger. 

While I was at it, I started thinking about the under eye bags.  I’ve always had dark under eye circles, but these were darker than ever before.  I’m a single mom of an infant and a preschooler.  I can say with absolute certainty that I haven’t slept a full night in over 7 months.  Two little people depend on me through the night to get them onto the potty or to feed them when they get hungry, even if it’s at 2am.  I don’t have a partner taking over after the third middle of the night wake up, and I’m proud that I can power through every night and provide for their needs, even though I’m running on fumes.

I’ve been working a lot on giving myself grace for the past few years.  Going through a divorce has strengthened my resolve to start treating myself kindly.  That starts with how I talk to myself, even though I’m the only one listening.

And so, I’m keeping the picture in my phone, eye wrinkles, dark circles and all.  I want to have the reminder handy that the work I’m doing as a single mom to two little kids is hard, but that I’m doing a great job.  Fellow moms, I challenge you to do the same.  Your body housed one or more tiny people.  You give them love, security and healthy boundaries every single day, and with the current pandemic, their needs are even greater.  If you’re seeing extra grays that haven’t been covered up in months, or a few extra pounds around the middle from stress snacking, don’t sweat it.  The work you’re doing is really challenging, and I guarantee you’re doing an amazing job.

Mental Health Awareness Month

 

It’s really amazing how things can change your life so drastically, especially when you least expect it.  The year was 2011. I was working at a restaurant at the time, and was fairly young and vibrant. I had a group of girls that I considered to be very close with (we still are today).  We would all hang out, go to eat after our shifts, shopping, bar hopping, you name it we did it. That year, we had a newbie join us. She was much younger than we were, but her personality and spirit just lifted the room when she was there.  We became very close. She didn’t live here, California was where her home was, but she came here during the summers to work and visit with family. We would talk frequently, and when she was back in Cali, we all missed her so much. She was a person you could talk about anything to.   She never made me feel ashamed for asking questions about god (she was extremely religious) and she made me want to be a better person. I’ve never met such a young person who was so involved in community outreach, helping the homeless, and just giving her all for other people in need.  She was my person. I always told her if something ever happened to me, I’d want her to marry my husband and help raise my children. She was that kind of role model, the one who made you look at things in a different light, a better light. We remained friends for years to come. We drifted apart, not by much, but since we weren’t working together anymore, our lives took us on different paths.  She was always still my person, and always a dear friend. Little did I know, she was struggling. I wouldn’t have thought in a million years she would have depression. To me, she was the person to help another get out of their depression, she has helped me so many times I can’t even count. The endless phone conversations about the silliest of things, and the most serious.

Sadly, in December of 2016, she took her own life.  I can’t explain to you in words how i felt the day i found out. Some part of me thought this was just all a nasty joke, or a pure nightmare, but it was true. And my life since hasn’t been the same.  

I’ve always been one to hold on to something and not let go.  I find myself thinking about her daily, and wondering why, she was so happy.  Mental health is very serious, and even if you can’t see it, someone close to you could be struggling.  I was and always have been open about my depression and anxiety issues. Her and I would talk about it, and how i felt, and what i can do to help myself.  I wish I would have known about her issues. I would have helped her anyway that I could. I feel a little lost that she is not in this life anymore. I’ve spent endless nights crying, and wondering what I could have done.  I feel pain for her mother, who is an angel, and is just as caring as she was. I feel pain for her family, I feel pain for all her friends. It’s a pain that just doesn’t go away, it just lingers there, waiting for something to trigger it.  I cannot tell you how many times, in the car, at home, work, the littlest things remind me of her, and it makes me cry, every single time.  

May is mental health awareness month.  This is something that hits home to me.  Not only because I lost a friend, but I also suffer as well.  I think we all need to start being a little more open about our feelings, especially when you feel yourself spiraling out of control.  I had my person to bring me back to reality, and now she’s gone because she must have felt her issues couldn’t be conquered. And it’s not true, whether you think it or not, others lives would not be better if you weren’t in it.  There are so many people that love and care about you, even if you don’t think so.  

One thing I’ve learned through my own experience, is to start asking your friends and loved ones how they are.  Really, ask them. Don’t just assume someone is ok because they seem happy, because you never know what they are feeling deep down.  

In 2009, when I had postpartum depression, I felt so ashamed, and embarrassed.  I didn’t fully understand what was going on with me. I wouldn’t even talk to my husband about it.  I almost felt “dirty”, and just kept pushing it down, until one day it all bubbled to the top. I’m so comfortable talking about this now, because i did get help, and i hate to say it, but i’m not sure where i would be today if i didn’t get that help.  It’s nothing to be ashamed about. Sometimes you need help, and that help can save your life. We have an advantage here living in Pittsburgh. We have some of the best doctors around. And we have some exceptional mental health doctors as well. I remember the day I told my doctor how I was feeling.  I couldn’t even look at her in the eyes, and she got down on her knees and held my hands and told me everything was going to be ok. I remember crying so hard, but she said this is common, that it isn’t something to be ashamed of, that i should be talking about it. Luckily for me, I have a wonderful family, and a husband who is more than exceptional.  Everyone was so great to me during the toughest time of my life. It took me a few years to get back to the way I wanted to feel, but it was worth the fight and the wait.  

One thing I know for sure, is I’m glad I’m here, and I fought the awful feelings inside me.  I couldn’t imagine not being here for my kids and husband. We need to be more kind to everyone around us, and we need to be there for friends and family, and understand where this starts and stems from.  We cannot walk around being ashamed of how we feel. Life is tough. It’s not easy by any means, and the stress of life can really weigh on a person and take a toll. I highly encourage everyone to take self care days.  Take a nice hot bath, rock out to great music, eat a delicious meal. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, it just has to be something you enjoy to help you, and make you feel good.  

I do wish every day that I could call and talk to my dear friend.  I know one day I’ll see her again. But for now, just thinking and talking about how great she was, is the best i can do for now.  I hope from reading this, you will all hug your friends and loved ones a little tighter, and care a little more, and be more sincere.  When a life is lost because of depression, it takes a little piece of you with it.  

Gratitude and Hope In the Era of Coronavirus

I don’t know about you, but in the past five weeks or so my anxiety has been running pretty high. Between all the unknowns, the rising infection and death tolls, the kids being home all the time while I’m trying to work, and losing clients (I’m a marketing consultant), it’s just not a good combination. Parts of my job that did pick up are all related to coronavirus coverage, which means I’m “in it” all day when I would rather be taking a break with my kids to unwind.

I haven’t written in awhile because I just felt so drained and unable to form cohesive thoughts. And even though I still don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel – when things start to reopen, we will still be operating in uncharted territory – I’ve seen my anxiety levels drop somewhat and my perspective on the whole situation evolving.

Two words for you that have helped me sort of redefine this period: gratitude and hope. You’ve probably seen memes on social media, ‘safe at home, not stuck at home.’ What I have tried really hard to do is to reframe my thinking like that. So I started making a mental list of things I am thankful for right now, and what I’m still looking forward to doing, whether it’s this summer/fall or in 2021 … or beyond. Cause who the hell knows.

Things I am grateful for amidst the coronavirus crisis:

  • Our health
  • Our home
  • Our jobs
  • The food in our freezer and fridge, even if we still haven’t been able to find toilet paper (seriously people, what are you all doing with all the freaking toilet paper?!)
  • My 3-year-old son is basically potty trained, something we have been trying to do for months but never had the time to keep him home for several days in a row to just “do it”
  • I can usually sleep in with my daughter, since our older son is up to put cartoons on for the toddler
  • My husband’s college courses moved online, which meant he got to be home more
  • His two-week paid leave earlier in April to stay home and help with the kids. It wasn’t a staycation, but it’s the closest thing we’ve probably ever got to one.
  • Our school district’s teachers, who have gone above and beyond since this thing started
  • The free breakfasts and lunches that the district distributes each weekday
  • Having a back yard and driveway where we can take the kids outside to play
  • Having a big public park 10 minutes from our house, where we can go for walks
  • Sunnier days (it’s still Pittsburgh, but springtime is better than winter when it comes to sun and warmth)
  • Wineries that have carryout sales
  • My toddler’s imagination and his stories
  • More homecooked meals since my husband is home more (he’s a much better cook than I am, and usually enjoys it more too)
  • That our older son is not a senior yet and while he is still missing out on a lot, we don’t have the added stress of graduation or senior prom like senior parents/kids do
  • Virtual doctor’s appointments that are covered by insurance (why has it taken so long to make this a thing?)

And next, things I am hopeful for and look forward to doing again one day:

  • Hanging out with friends
  • Eating out at our favorite restaurants
  • Going to that conference by myself
  • Going to Kennywood and taking my kids to Thomas’s Play land (or whatever it’s called)
  • Farmer’s markets
  • Going to the store and being able to buy everything on my list
  • Washington Wild Things games and dollar hot dog and beer nights
  • Hosting cookouts at our house
  • Going to the wave pool
  • Playing real frisbee golf instead of the Wii Sports Resort version
  • Going on vacation in August (fingers seriously crossed)
  • Watching the school marching band perform, now that our older son has joined
  • Pens and Steelers, even if it’s just watching them on TV

There’s probably more I can add to both of these lists. But that’s what I came up with for now. What would be on your lists?

Staying Healthy During Quarantine: 4 Tips For Creating Wellness at Home

My how fast things change, one day we’re doing the Monday – Friday shuffle between work and school. Now, many of us are homeschooling and home from work due to the quarantine from COVID19. While this huge shift in life is unexpected, it’s giving us the opportunity to look at how we are taking care of our health. People are now drastically considering health changes to boost their immunity, including myself.

I feel so blessed to have started my path to health and wellness a few years ago with my own health scare of severe migraines and constantly getting sick due to burnout. So when it became apparent we’d have to be staying home due to the virus I knew it was time to ramp up those healthy choices to give my daughter and I a chance at having a strong immune system. Here are 4 things I do to stay healthy during the quarantine.

  1. Rest without judgment– The change in routine alone can throw us off physically, mentally, and emotionally. Media has a constant loop feed of fear and can suck all the energy out without boundaries when consuming it. If you find yourself needing extra time to recharge by napping or sleeping, do so if you can. Don’t guilt yourself into feeling like everything has to be done a certain way or doing more just because you are at home. Self judgement also begins the stress response in the body and stress lowers the immune system.

2. Eat more fruits and veggies– This may seem like a no brainer but now is a great time to get on top of how we eat. With most restaurants closed or only offering take out, it gives us an opportunity to cook more meals at home that are healthy and nutritious. Eating fruits and vegetables provides a lot of the vitamins and nutrients we need to build a strong immune system. Green smoothies and salads are my favorite way to get our servings in a yummy way. My 7 year old loves smoothies and eating healthy with me. We have a smoothie almost every day.


3. Move your body consistently- If you notice you’re feeling more stressed the more you’re at home it’s good to find an exercise you like so you can move the stress out. Whether it be yoga, HIIT, pilates, etc there are various workouts you can do from home. You can find short beginner yoga flows on YouTube at Brittany Rose Wellness if you are interested in trying yoga. Stress is at all time high, especially with us being mandated at home it’s hard for us to get out and release it. Help your body by finding your flow as I like to call it and try to move your body 3-4 times a week.

4. Supplements that boost health and immunity- Supplements are a great way to fill in the holes of what nutrients we miss from our food. Some of the things I have added into our diet are: sea moss, mushroom extracts, and turmeric. All 3 have immune boosting properties along with other health benefits. I started a multivitamin with vitamin D and probiotics for my daughter. These are just a few options you can add to your regimen. I add the sea moss to our smoothies. I make golden milk with the turmeric.  Do research before you try and as always consult with your doctor before trying supplements or a new fitness plan.

These new things happening can be unnerving but remember we are in this together even though we are apart. I believe one day we’ll be able to ease up on social distancing and get to enjoy company. Thank you to all our essential workers, especially our medical professionals and to all the mommas out there doing their best to keep their kids feeling safe and loved during this time.

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