You are Not a Burden, Mama

Once again I find myself under the stronghold of depression. This time, as has been the case in so many years prior, I am at a place where I can’t feign happiness. I know I seem like I’m okay but I can no longer pretend that that’s true. With that being said, I am being called to save the topic I had planned to write about to indulge and begin to heal from this burden I’ve been carrying.

From the outside looking in, I know that it looks like Jade has it together. I’m committed to working on my blog. I usually get something written for, “The Teen Sex Trade: Part 2”, even if it is only one page. I talk, post on social media, laugh, and even manage to get out of the house to run errands or hang out with my bestie. My children are alive and healthy, which is an accomplishment within itself. I’m functioning but inside I am losing it. I’m losing it again.

Depression first crept in a few weeks ago. What started as a nap that lasted too long one day turned into an anxiety induced stomach ache. Those things turned into going to bed at the same time as the twins with a splitting headache. Not to mention, I came down with a cold that pressurized my sinuses terribly. More recently, I’ve been hiding in my sleep whenever I could. I’ve been dreading the start and end of the day, not wanting to do daycare drop off or pick up. I’m grateful to have the day to myself so I can sleep but that drive to pick up the twins for 5:30pm has been paralyzing. I would tell myself, “I just have to get through supper and bedtime”, in order to return to my solitude where I can be alone with my thoughts.

There are times (that are becoming more frequent) when I wish day in and out that I was not a mom. The thought comes with its own conditions like, “I wish I wasn’t a mom but like without ever having the knowledge of what it feels like to be one”. I would never give them up willingly or get them taken away through being neglectful or abusive in anyway but some days I tell myself if I had to do it all over again, I would have never had them. Not only because their dad is absent and our support system is painfully limited but because I often feel as though I’m incapable of raising them alone. I feel like I am doing them a disservice by being their mother. My depression’s mantra has been, “I can’t do this. I can’t raise them by myself”. My spirit knows that I have been given these gifts of life because they chose me and if they didn’t believe I could raise them, they would have chosen someone else. My brain on the other hand tells me I’m the worst person for the job and sometimes I believe it.

Seasonal depression is very real. It suffocates. During the winter, I always tell myself that if I can make it through February then I made it. This is a sentiment that was immortalized by my dear friend who committed suicide a month shy of potentially seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I look forward to March 1st the same way one would look forward to their birthday or the ten second countdown to new year’s day. March 1st means there is hope on the horizon. I don’t wake up no longer depressed but I wake up with a sense of relief, knowing that I can hang in there until spring. What fucks me up about seasonal depression is the break I get from March til around mid April. In that time, I’m riding the coattails of hope. I’m keeping in mind that after spring, I’m good. It will be summer soon. The sun will be shining. My melanin will be poppin! I can go outside. Especially this year where my children are turning two and are way more mobile, I thought I had it in the bag at the beginning of spring. Then, like clockwork, depression rolled back around.

For some reason, as it’s happening, I tend to forget the cycle and that this exact feeling surfaced last year and the year before that and the year before that. It’s like depression wants to get one more punch in before the end of the fight after I’ve taken off my boxing gloves and am no longer adequately defending myself. At this time in 2015, I was on the verge of homelessness as I was preparing to write my final exams for my third diploma. Triggered. At this time in 2016, I experienced my first real bout of burnout from my job where I was doing anti-human trafficking advocacy. My speaking from lived experience took a toll on me that I was not prepared for, that no management trained me to combat. I abruptly quit my job and was left to figure it all out. Triggered. In 2017, pregnancy was kicking my ass and I could no longer handle the commute to my job so I packed up my bachelor apartment and flew back to Nova Scotia to attempt to rest before I would give birth two and a half months later. Triggered. Last year, at this time, me and my ex were on the outs. We hadn’t quite reached the point of breaking up officially but things were so bad, I told him I had to go back to Nova Scotia to get my head together. I flew home with the twins with no return ticket, unsure of if we would return. Triggered. Now, here we are in 2019 and all of those memories are resurfacing, along with my current reality, and I am fucking losing it.

As I identified in my last blog post, Mother, Connecting to Land, I don’t feel at home where I live. This is adding to my depression and anxiety because I’m constantly trying to figure out where home is for me. I feel confident that I’m at a place in my life where home is Nova Scotia but then my anxiety surfaces and I begin to question myself. What if I go home and I still hate it? What if I don’t want to live there? Where will I go? What will I do for work? If I only had to answer these questions for myself, I would go where life took me as I have prior to becoming a mother. Now, however, I have two children whom I have to provide stability for. How do I provide stability to two humans when I have never experienced long term stability myself? I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING! I don’t know where to go but going nowhere is triggering.

Triggers are everywhere. Some I’m accustomed to because I’ve learned to take preventative measures or at least be mindful in the moments that they occur. Others are newer and when they hit me, they hit hard. I’ve been trying to own the way I handle them and not take it out on others but even that is hard. A lot of times when I’m being triggered, part of me is trying to ground myself and the other part of me is debating if I should tell the person who is triggering me. Most of the time I can ground myself by telling myself that I am no longer experiencing this. I am safe. I know I’m not in that place anymore but sometimes my brain doesn’t know the difference and my only escape is sleep and/or isolation. When I do tell the person, they are usually understanding even if they don’t fully get it. My circle of support serves as a reminder that I am worthy of love and care. I’m grateful to be cultivating a support system that is able to lift me up when I’m being triggered.

While being triggered, it is very easy to spiral downwards when I am in the trenches of depression. It’s a cycle. It has been my narrative for years but I am starting to choose a new path to follow. There are things I can do now that I would have never done as a teenager or even a few months ago. As a nearly 30 year old woman, that growth should go without saying but I am proud of myself for growing intentionally rather than allowing myself to stay stuck in the hallows of being reactionary. Recently, a white woman demanded that I explain a joke I made on Facebook. I simply replied with, “Nahh”, giving no explanation. This white woman completely lost her shit, attempting to get a reaction out of me. After “complimenting” my sharing of knowledge and education, she insulted me and was racist towards another black woman on my post. She even disrespected my book (available for purchase by clicking the bolded text, “The Teen Sex Trade: My Story”) and my experiences as a survivor of sexual exploitation. This all started simply because I practiced my boundary and didn’t indulge in her demand for information. 17 year old me would have called her out, exposing information that hits below the belt in order to humble her, knowing full well that that exposure would have led to a fist fight on sight dawg. In 2019, being the 27 year old woman and mother that I am, I didn’t allow myself to get out of character and give her what she wanted. It was almost orgasmic to recognize my growth in the moment instead of giving in and regretting it later. I told her I would never give her the time of day and I meant it. It truly would not have been worth it in the long run. I’ll admit, I did have a good laugh at her expense like, “I’m not gon’ argue witchu. You mad! You BIG mad!”Still, I stand firm in the knowledge that I have bigger fish to fry than to worry about a white woman being mad at me because I didn’t indulge her sense of entitlement or express gratitude for her half assed compliments. Thank you, next!

Motherhood requires a type of selflessness that I was not prepared for. I am only six years removed from being sexually exploited. When you subtract the two years I’ve spent being a mother, I got four (seemingly short) years “to myself”. Half of those years were spent being self-destructive in some of the worst ways. When I calculate the time I’ve intentionally spent healing, I am coming up short. I didn’t give myself enough time for myself and now I’m immersed in a world that I was not taught to navigate, where I had very few positive examples.

Part of what makes motherhood difficult is the constant, exhausting act of being in service to others. When you work in the social service sector, your time spent being in service to others may not always be 9am-5pm but there is usually a time when you “clock out” so to speak. As a single mother, I don’t get to clock out. Even when my children go to bed at night, I am in service to them by making sure their clothes are ready for the next day, getting myself ready to face it all over again, and that the house is cleanish. Still, at night I get paralyzed by thoughts of what it means to be a mother, what I did right or wrong, and I question how I am going to make it through the next day.

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My youth and I don’t have daily or consistent, hands on support. Occasionally, my homegirl or one of my cousins will take the twins for a night or two to give me a break. I always express my gratitude but I can’t ignore the fact that it’s not enough. I’m learning to not apologize for that reality, that I can be grateful for what I get and still feel unsupported for the things that I need. The people that I’ve been conditioned to believe should help us, don’t. I wish I could call one of my family members or their father and his family but I cannot and that’s our reality, right now.

In this generation of young people, we are so used to instant gratification. Post a picture, get a like. Text someone, get a text right back. We feel so entitled to people’s time and labour. If I was holding my breath to receive instant gratification for the fruits of my labour, in raising my children, I would be dead. During these first few years of my children’s life, I know that what I pour into them now will be the foundation that helps shape the rest of their life. This responsibility is major and I try very hard to be mindful of that. I try to speak to them with love and patience, affirming their learning, celebrating their milestones, and attempting to capture some of their life so they have pictures to look back on but it is hard. It’s hard to do these things when I’m constantly giving unto them and not getting that immediate sense of gratification.

My first Love Language is “Words of Affirmation”. I’m aware that this stems from my lack of said language from my mother while I was growing up. I’m aware that it is not my children’s responsibility to ensure that I feel appreciated. I mean, they’re not even two years old yet! That is not their job. Still, sometimes I wish they could just say, “I love you Mama”, “Thank you”, or “I appreciate you”. I’m in awe when I hear stories from other moms who talk about their toddlers showing them appreciation. That’s so beautiful to me and I hope I get to experience that one day but right now, my reality is that my children are still small and have a very limited vocabulary. In addition to that, they don’t owe me those words of affirmation. As they grow and learn to talk, Words of Affirmation may not be their love language. I may never hear the words that I need to hear from them. It’s my responsibility to not only surround myself with those who can give me what I need but to give it to myself. That act of service for and towards myself is a work in progress.

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Ten weeks ago, I was not in a place, mentally, to fry the fish that I fried this week. This week, I changed an intergenerational narrative that tells black women to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and deal with their mental illness in silence, regardless of what the consequences may be for her or her children. Ever since a child, I’ve been told to shut up and stop crying. I’ve carried that conditioning well into adulthood but I cannot carry it into my motherhood. Even if I could, I refuse to. My children need me and not just a piece of me. They need me whole; not perfect but happy. Unfortunately I haven’t been any of those things in the last few weeks. I’ve been trying so hard to keep my head above water. I’ve been trying to stay busy, purposely neglecting my household chores, allowing myself to rest, and talking to my friends but it hasn’t been enough. The depression, anxiety, and triggers have been far too overwhelming for me to handle and so I’ve opted to utilize a resource that I would have never used prior to that very moment. The reason for not doing so was not because I didn’t think I needed it but because I was too afraid.

Yesterday, I dropped my children off to a place that I’ve never been to be taken care of by people that I’ve never met in my life. This resource was suggested to me back in the last hellish days of winter. I’d played with the idea only briefly, keeping the organization’s website bookmarked in my phone without committing to anything. Last week, I knew I was about to get bad again, that depression was wrapping its claws around my throat. With no where else to turn, I figured, at the very least, I could get my registration form in just so they have it. Within a couple of days, the intake worker called me to arrange a day and time to bring the twins in for two nights. We spoke about their policies and what to expect. Essentially, I would bring the twins in to the respite centre and they would keep them from Wednesday to Friday. The service acts as an overnight child care program for families experiencing temporary crisis. I had never heard of anything like it outside of the Children’s Aid Society in Halifax. As a teenager, I had a respite worker who would bring me to her house for two nights, once a month or so, to take a break from my foster home. I didn’t know that it was an option for me as an adult who is years removed from aging out of the system.

The two days leading up to drop off were spent asking myself a zillion questions, all of them riddled with fear. What if something happens to them? What if Children’s Aid sneakily intervenes and takes them from me? What if one of them dies? What if they both die? What will people think? Does this make me a bad mom? Following these questions, I reaffirmed this negative self talk by telling myself that I am a bad mom. People are going to judge me and rightfully so. If something happens to them, it’s my fault for sending them there to begin with. They would be better off in the system anyway. All of this rushed through my head without warning and before I could stop it.

Now that I’ve had nearly 24 hours to myself, I know that these thoughts are the farthest away from the truth. My children are safe and in good hands. In fact, it is better for them to be there than to be at home with me right now where I am liable to treat them unfairly by yelling at them for simply being themselves. Children’s Aid has no reason to intervene because my children are safe, healthy, loved, and well taken care of. Anyone who judges me for utilizing a resource to enhance and empower my family unit is someone who has no business in our lives, anyway. I’m an amazing mother, even on the days when I don’t feel like it. There is no one in this world who could raise my children with the same love and intention that I can.

Without these 24 hours to myself, I would not be able to reassure myself in the ways that I just did. I was terrified to drop them off. I cried multiple times throughout the day yesterday, dreading the hour that I would part from them. In order to stifle my guilt, I took my children out to eat so that they would have a good time with Mama before entering a new and strange situation. I pulled up to the building with the notion that if I got even the slightest vibe of anything uncomfortable, I would put my children back in the car, turn around and go home. I didn’t want to leave them there but I had no other option. The couple of people I do know and trust to mind my children have their own lives and can’t accommodate us every moment that we’re between a rock and a hard place. Right now, I had one option and I made a very difficult choice to take advantage of this resource. I had to make the choice to work through my fear and not allow it to keep me hostage, in turn projecting trauma and mental health issues onto my children. In choosing myself first, I am also choosing them.

I am so grateful for my willingness to choose myself first, even when that willingness is preceded by uncertainty. I’m grateful to have access to resources that allow me to choose myself first. I have about 6 hours until I pick up my children and I already feel more equipped to be their mother upon their return. I know that I’m not in the clear. Sometimes, depression holds still just underneath the surface, liable to make a splash above water at any time. Right now, with this extra support, I am closer to myself than to depression. That’s all I need. All I need is enough help to grab hope by the coattails again. I cannot steer this motherhood ship by myself. I need all hands on deck. This mama needs to know that she is not a burden and to the mamas reading this, you are not a burden.

* black and pink texts are from “Exchange Nation” on Facebook