Mental Health Safety Tips for Your College Teen

mother kissing daughter's face

Transitioning to college can be one of the most emotionally jarring, vulnerable moments in a young person’s life.

They are suddenly away from all they have ever known or are familiar with, and must navigate this new landscape virtually on their own. Seemingly overnight, college students become responsible for everything from waking themselves up for class, to managing their money, to dealing with sometimes dicey social situations. Continue reading Mental Health Safety Tips for Your College Teen

How to Master Back to School Season With Your College Student

dorm room bunkbeds

Back to school can be a stressful time for anyone, but when you’re sending your child off to college — especially if this is your first time — you are likely feeling many mixed emotions, from fear to sadness to amazement. After all, this is your baby, and you are sending them off into the world without you. It may feel like there is so much at stake, and even though you have been preparing for this moment since your child was born, it can feel like a gut-punch when it actually happens. Continue reading How to Master Back to School Season With Your College Student

How Fertility Issues Impact Mental Health

couple standing front to back loosely holding hands

I will never forget the fertility struggles my husband and I faced as we attempted to conceive our first child. We were both young and healthy. I had regular menstrual cycles, no reproductive issues (that I knew about), and always assumed that getting pregnant would happen instantly. Each month we tried to get pregnant, I was shocked that the little plus sign on the pregnancy test never appeared – not even once.

But my shock turned to despair when – after 18 months of trying and a million, sometimes very invasive fertility tests – we were told that my husband had a low sperm count. The first doctor we saw told us that his count was so low that our only hope of conceiving would be to use IVF, which we could not afford. I remember lying in bed, looking at the ceiling, feeling a level of hopelessness in my bones that I had never experienced before. Continue reading How Fertility Issues Impact Mental Health

What I Wish My Father Had Told Me (About Mental Health)

father hiking with son pointing upwards

Fathers are one of the biggest influences in our lives. Whether you are close to your father or have a distant (or non-existent) relationship with him, the role of a father in one’s life is hard to capture succinctly. As we approach Father’s Day, here are some ideas that I wish my father had told me about men and mental health. Continue reading What I Wish My Father Had Told Me (About Mental Health)

Why Parenting is the Biggest Challenge to Maintaining My Mental Health

Little girl playing video games

This morning, I was woken up at 5:13 am by my six-year-old, who desperately needed a drink of water — and who apparently needed to whine at the top of his lungs to tell me so. This would not have been such a big deal had I not been up half the night with a bad head cold…the same cold my son had kept me up all night with two days prior.

Needless to say, I spent the morning with a pounding headache, a full day’s work ahead of me that I couldn’t put off, and a good deal of resentment.

This small snapshot of my life is not unusual. As a working mother of two, there is always a lot on my plate. It seems as though someone is always sick, in need of food or drink, or emotional support. And because they are my children and I love them to the moon and back, I find myself putting my children’s needs about ten miles ahead of my own. Continue reading Why Parenting is the Biggest Challenge to Maintaining My Mental Health

Asking “Are You Having Kids?” Can Damage a Person’s Mental Health, Here’s Why…

Woman holding man's arm in the forest

Ever been on the receiving end of the following conversations?

It’s Mother’s Day brunch, Thanksgiving, or the Fourth of July picnic, and a well-meaning person sidles up to ask, “When are you having kids?”

Or worse yet, you’re at a networking event and an acquaintance asks the same. As if inquiring about personal reproductive issues is appropriate small talk, let alone in a professional environment where choices about children are complicated (for women especially).

Discussion about having children is a charged issue that has no place in unsolicited conversation. Not only that, whether they’re child-free by choice, haven’t made up their mind yet, or have experienced heartbreaking issues while trying to have children, asking a person or couple if they’re having kids can be damaging to their mental health.

Continue reading Asking “Are You Having Kids?” Can Damage a Person’s Mental Health, Here’s Why…

The Mental Health Costs of Infertility

Empty baby crib in soft light

“I’m sorry to say that your test results were negative.”

Moments before the answer, I knew the nurse was about to deliver another bout of crushing news. The tone in her voice and subtle hesitation quietly revealed that despite our best efforts with a superovulation cycle, I was still not pregnant.

After the call, I brushed a stray tear aside and went back to my desk to finish the work day, only to release buckets of emotion the moment I slid into the driver’s seat of my SUV to head home.

Continue reading The Mental Health Costs of Infertility

Birth Trauma — Perinatal PTSD — Isn’t Unusual, and You’re Not Alone

woman giving birth doctor and nurse treating her

Giving birth can be one of the biggest events in a person’s life, and it’s a loaded experience. Everyone has expectations about what a “good birth” looks like, but birth doesn’t always go as planned. For some parents feelings of disappointment, fear, or stress about the events surrounding the birth of a beloved child can transition into something more serious: birth trauma, also known as perinatal PTSD. This condition is a lot more common than you might think.

Our expanding understanding of psychological trauma has highlighted the fact that PTSD is an issue much broader than the emotional aftermath of experiencing combat. Any intense traumatic experience can have psychological ramifications, whether someone has a history of mental health conditions or not, and no matter how well-prepared someone might be. Birth, accompanied with intense physical and emotional experiences, is no exception. But the myths surrounding pregnancy and childbirth can make people uncomfortable when it comes to speaking out, or uncertain about whether what they’re experiencing is normal. Continue reading Birth Trauma — Perinatal PTSD — Isn’t Unusual, and You’re Not Alone

The Grief of an Empty Nest: No Arms Syndrome

woman alone on swing sunset in background

When my sons were little, I would tell them, “You are my left arm and you are my right arm.” Then with one on each side of me, either walking holding hands or snuggling on the couch, I felt whole. Now, as I literally face an empty nest — as I right now stare at the walls and empty chairs of a nearly empty house — I’m enraged at how quaint and inadequate the term is. Empty Nest. It’s more like no arms syndrome. It’s as if the two things that kept me afloat and alive in this cold world are gone. It’s a deep, physical loss. I feel broken, not whole.

Looking Back on Motherhood

Becoming the Mother I Always Wanted to Be

When I was thirty-five I thought, this would be the time to have a third child. My sons were seven and five. We were out to dinner, a favorite restaurant, and I looked at my oldest boy, a very precocious, verbal and sensitive child, who I had somewhat of an intense relationship with: we are very alike. I asked him, “If I had another child, I’d pay less attention to you and that might be a good thing, right?” He looked straight into my eyes and gently answered, “You don’t pay too much attention to me. I like how much attention you pay to me.” And that was that. Two sons. My left arm and right arm. I didn’t need a third arm.

I am known and rightly so, as a feminist writer, a feminist in general, and am very proud of that. Fierce about it, frankly. But first and foremost, I always wanted to be a mother and was determined to be one. I don’t see this as antithetical, being a feminist and being a mother. As a child I walked around with baby dolls stuck up my dress, pretending to be pregnant. At the age of twenty-five, after being in a relationship for a year, I told my boyfriend, “I love you, I want to marry you and have babies.“ He balked. I broke up with him. Two years later, I was married and pregnant. After I gave birth to my first son, the midwife held him up at me, we stared into each other’s eyes and I said, “You’re here. I’ve known you my whole life. Now you’re here.”

Ensuring Children Have the Skills They Need to Leave the Nest

For a decade or so, every summer I’d take my sons to a house upstate near the Delaware river. I’d drive them to a tennis day camp, then I’d go on a run. Afterward, snug back in our house, I’d write, and they’d read, draw, or build legos. We’d have dinner. My life seemed perfect. I was happy. Everything felt right.

My therapist at the time said, “It’s OK that you’re not very social now, but as your sons get bigger, you’re going to need to be more social.” Like always, he was right. But it hasn’t proven easy for me. And being more social doesn’t make up for the terrible loss of one’s children. I know they’re not dead. I know we still love each other. But they are gone. And I’m lost without them.

During those difficult adolescent years, I’d quote a friend of my parents. “Children are like boats,” he said. “If you build a boat and it’s in your basement, you didn’t build a very good boat. If it’s out on the water, moving along, you built a good boat.”

This past May, as my son packed up to spend the summer in Los Angeles, I was sitting with him, upset, but also making sure he had enough underwear and socks. It was the first summer since he left for college that he’d be away the entire time. I cried. He said, “You and your boat building, Mom.” I protested. “You’re a great boat! You don’t have to leave for the whole summer! You’re a great boat.” And he is. He thrives in college, travels the world, and speaks Spanish fluently. But off to Los Angeles he went.

Pursuing a Fulfilled Life with an Empty Nest

So what does one do when one loses the people that matter most to them? When the arms that held you up are gone? Like after my father died, you just get up and get going, if possible. Some days, it’s almost impossible. Those days, I don’t go to the gym, I don’t answer my emails, don’t do the dishes. Those days, I allow myself to be lost in grief. But other days, I’ve started to do things I never wanted to do, but it turns out they’re good for me. I got my first job in twenty years.

I’m teaching writing to freshmen at a University. I never wanted to teach. I even had an attitude about it. It’s funny how we become the things we never wanted to become. I find teaching very rewarding. I called my sons. They’re were proud of me, as I am proud of everything about them. Astonished, I said, “I’m good at it. My students love me.” My son said to me, “Of course you are! It’s like mothering.” And my heart cracked. My tears welled. And I missed them both so much, I started to shake.

The next day, I got up, got dressed, and went to work. It’s not the same kind of love, but it is love. In whatever form I can express it, I’ll take. It’s sort of like settling, but it’s all I have. I try to be grateful. Fake it until you make it. But pretending isn’t my strong suit. Loss is real and it hurts. Some people hurt more strongly than others. I am the former, and part of being one of those people, the ones that hurt hard, is accepting it. Acknowledging pain, fear, loss, and sitting with it. Wounds are real. They may turn into scars, heal, but scar tissue isn’t like normal flesh. And even though it’s a kind of healing, it can still hurt, pull taught at moments, a constant reminder. I will always miss my sons. Wherever they sail to.