I grew up in a very divided household when it came to politics. The fights my parents would get into over presidential candidates is still something that sticks with me. I grew up wanting to avoid politics as much as possible.
That changed in 2015. When I found out that a bully was moving into the White House, I became vocal.
I’ve tried over and over again to give our current president the benefit of the doubt, but over and over again, he has shown us who he is. He’s a bully. He’s racist. He does not care about anyone but himself.
I cannot stress that last sentence enough.
Leading up to November 2015, I applied for blogging campaigns that asked: “Do you talk about politics on your platform? Please explain.”
I hated that question. I felt brands were looking for influencers answering “no” so they could remain apolitical.
I couldn’t say “no.”
I’m a mommy blogger and parenting is political.
Parenting is political when there is a possibility of bully becoming President of the United States. Aren’t I supposed to be teaching my kids that bullies are bad and they don’t win?
Parenting is political when bills that have passed with bipartisan support in Congress pile up without discussion in the Senate. Legislation that includes an increase the minimum wage, which would make it easier for parents to provide for their families and background checks on firearms, which can prevent child deaths.
Parenting is political when families don’t know how they will pay their bills or put food on the table because lawmakers cannot agree on how to fund a wall.
I tend to get quiet in my public spaces when the world gets mad. Especially when it comes to racial injustices. It’s not that I don’t care — I do. It’s just that, as a white person, I worry that what I have to say isn’t adequate enough. Or I’ll say the wrong thing. I find that other people seem to say things better than I can in the moment and I tend to share those sentiments instead.
I don’t want to do that today, so I’m about to fumble my way through what’s been on my mind since…well…2014 when the Ferguson riots took place and the Black Lives Matter movement took off.
I’ve spent a lot of time since Michel Brown’s death listening to Black and Brown voices. In that time, I realized how inadequate my education on racism was growing up. I grew up learning everyone is created equal and has the same rights. I knew racism still existed, but I didn’t realize how badly. I knew nothing of my white privilege.
I’ve spent the last six-ish years listening and learning and growing. It’s led me to the belief that, on the whole, white people need to sit down, shut up, and listen. Listen to the Black and Brown voices. Don’t comment. Don’t interject. Just listen.
When you sit down and just listen, you’ll find common themes in their stories and truths. Those themes are enraging and heartbreaking. You’ll also learn what they need from the white community. (*hint* It’s more than sharing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes to your bubble.)
You’ll find that there is a lot of work that still needs doing.
Racism was never dead. It just continues to be swept under the rug. All lives matter and that is why there is a need to speak up and out against the inequality and police brutality that Black lives face more often than whites. There is a need for change, but we have to be willing to listen and learn from those who need it.
I’m determined to raise my kids better. Yes, I will fumble through it; I’m still listening and learning. But I hope that through the fumbling they’ll learn and understand things from a perspective I didn’t growing up.
Back in February, when most of us were really realizing that a novel coronavirus was spreading throughout the world, we were reminded again and again about the basic rules of hygiene.
And again and again, I was caught between disgust because grown-ass adults need to be reminded to wash their hands like they’re six and amusement because these rules became my life as a food allergy mom five years ago.
Did you know that basic hygiene rules also keep people with food allergies from going into anaphylactic shock?
So those few weeks between the virus coming to Virginia and Virginia shutting down didn’t change much for me and mine. We didn’t start washing our hands frequently — we already were. We weren’t suddenly wiping down common surfaces — that’s what we do throughout the day. We weren’t sharing our drinks and eating utensils — it can lead to death.
The longer the pandemic drags on, the more I realize:
The rules Food Allergy Moms have learned to live with and work to instill in our kids give us an edge during this pandemic.
Wash your hands!
I say this just as often as “do you have to pee?” every single day. Twenty seconds with soap (or long enough to sing the alphabet, which I’ve made the boys recite loud enough for me to hear a time or two so I know they’ve done what I’ve asked).
Was the cafeteria table wiped down between classes? How well was the table at the restaurant cleaned before you sat down? How clean was that dishrag?
You can see food, but not the proteins that cause allergic reactions. Wiping down common surfaces at home or in public might seem like overkill, but as food allergy moms, we’d rather be safe than sorry.
Don’t touch your face. Don’t lick your fingers! Stop biting your nails. DON’T pick your nose! Sorry, you can’t kiss me.
Some people don’t react to touching their allergen, but they will if that allergen touches a mucous membrane. These membranes are your eyes, nose, and mouth and when allergens reach these areas, reactions can be more severe (anaphylaxis).
This is why we’re big hand washers.
Viruses work the same way. You might not get sick from using a doorknob, but if you decide to eat fries out of the bag without washing your hands first, that virus can find its way into your mouth and make you sick.
So…Wash your hands 😉
Don’t share drinks (or utensils)
Food allergens can survive in your saliva for over four hours! This means that you could eat a PB&J sandwich for lunch and cause someone to react if you share a drink at a movie theater two hours later. Or, your cake could have traces of an allergen in it without you knowing. If you use your fork to steal a piece of pie from your friend with a food allergy, then you’ve contaminated their food.
Most of us have been told at least one point in time that sharing drinks (or utensils) spreads germs. So this is just good life advice.
Keep Your Distance!
If you’ve been eating someone’s allergen, a simple hug or kiss can cause a reaction. Peanut dust can linger on clothes or your lips. Those allergens can cause skin reactions or worse. Food allergy moms try to keep their kids away from anyone who has been eating an allergen because you don’t have to see it to react to it. It’s not that we don’t want our kids to accept Great Aunt Lilly’s hug, it’s just that we don’t want to worry about hives from a kiss on the cheek.
Now, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, we’re being told to distance ourselves from people we don’t live with. It’s not that we don’t want to visit grandparents, it just that we don’t want to worry about killing them because we didn’t know we were sick ourselves.
Food allergy parents are constantly assessing risks. Do I trust the label on the package or should I call the company? Does the steakhouse have peanuts at every table? How seriously do my relatives take my child’s allergy to be able to depend on them for child care? Are my kids of an age where they can be more responsible for themselves and I don’t have to hover?
Every food allergy parent assesses risk but it’s is an area where the final decisions will vary greatly. One family might be okay with their child eating food produced on shared lines with their allergens. Others won’t be. One family might be okay with their child sitting on movie theater chairs. Others will bring a blanket to drape over the chair so their child doesn’t touch food residue.
Now that the country is beginning to open back up from Stay At Home mandates, everybody will find themselves assessing the risk of doing something “normal” again. And what one person feels is safe will be something another wouldn’t dream of doing just yet.
Last week, I read a post by Emily Oster about assessing the risk of seeing grandparents and putting your kids in daycare as it relates to COVID-19. But her framework for assessing risk is similar to mine as a Food Allergy Mom and once again I was thinking “Welcome to my life!” Her post got one thing right for sure: sometimes there is no easy answer.
So. Being a Food Allergy Mom means knowing there is always a risk of reaction. We can never take that risk away, so we must protect our kids and teach them how to protect themselves as best they can.
For us, this means making sure L has his AUVI-Q every time he leaves the house. It means bringing safe food to parties so he’ll be able to eat. We keep a stash of peanut-free cupcakes in our freezer so that L doesn’t have to go to a birthday party without a sweet treat. It means stocking up on wipes and keeping them with us becausehand sanitizer does not get rid of food proteinsthat cause reactions. Sometimes, it means removing ourselves from situations that make us/L feel unsafe, or decline invitations that would put him in those positions to begin with.
COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon. It’s a very nasty virus that we might never have a cure or treatment for. So, we need to figure out how to live with it. That means figuring out how to protect ourselves — and others — from something too tiny to see with the naked eye that has the potential to kill.
Something Food Allergy Moms know about all too well.
I am honored to share Aubrey’s experience with mental illness and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) in today’s Surviving the Darkness interview. She’s overcome so many challenges and has really great advice to offer parents going through similar experiences.
1) Tell us a bit about yourself:
My name is Aubrey McQueen and I’m a 28-year-old Air Force veteran, wife, and mother of four kids and one puppy. I live in Northern Kentucky with my family, right outside of Cincinnati. I’m a graphic designer and communications specialist by trade, but now I’m a homemaker and I recently started a self-care blog for parents because I felt like I needed a creative outlet. I start graduate school in January, so this is going to get interesting trying to juggle that with the family and blog!
2) What was your diagnosis?
In 2014 I was diagnosed with major depression, and in 2016 borderline personality disorder was added to the mix. At the time I was active duty in the Air Force, so the personality disorder diagnosis influenced my medical retirement from the military. I have never officially been diagnosed with a PMAD, but have been told by multiple professionals that what I experienced in the military was major depression, perinatal mood disorder, and postpartum psychosis.
3) When did you realize something was wrong or that you needed help?
I realized something was wrong after I gave birth to my oldest son. When he was born I didn’t feel that sense of joy that I had always heard about. I felt extremely indifferent toward him and I didn’t know why. While on maternity leave I struggled so bad, I could never forget how I felt. My son cried so much and I felt like I was going to hurt him even though I know I didn’t want to do that. I called my mom for help with the baby and she told me about baby blues, so I assumed that’s what was going on. Problem was that I didn’t get better after a couple weeks. I was out of state at that time, so I couldn’t see my doctor but I knew something wasn’t right. I called the behavioral health office at the nearest military base to see if I could speak to someone there but they directed me to the ER. I never went.
4) Were you screened for a PMAD?
I have never been screened for PMAD.
5) What did your treatment plan look like?
My experience with PMAD was kind of unbelievable when I reflect on that time period. I was seeing a counselor on base at least once a week, but the feelings became so overwhelming. I had to be hospitalized five times in two years due to suicidal ideations, psychosis, and medication adjustments.
While hospitalized, I participated in group therapies and later transitioned to a two-week intensive group therapy program. After I had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, the military set me up with group Dialectical Behavior Therapy.
Since 2015 I’ve been able to manage my mood with Zoloft; however, after I gave birth to my youngest daughter in February 2019, I had to have the Zoloft raised to the highest dosage and recently added Wellbutrin to the mix.
6) Did you face any challenges on your road to recovery?
I have faced so many challenges on my road to recovery, starting with being hospitalized and having my babies away from me. Trying to find the right medication was difficult at first, especially because I had to stop nursing my youngest son. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t agreed to that medication. Then having to increase my medication this year was hard to come to terms with because I thought I was doing so well until one day I just wasn’t.
Finding the right therapist has always been a challenge for me. I’m very picky, and I believe rightfully so. My therapist in the military was wonderful, I can’t say enough about how she helped me through those difficult times. She got assigned to a different base, and after that, I had a lot of trouble clicking with someone else and trusting other professionals.
I eventually stopped seeking therapy after I got out of the military because I felt so jaded by the whole military medical separation. It was like I gave my life to the Air Force but they tossed me to the wayside when I needed help and understanding the most. It still hurts to this day, but I understand the reason behind it.
In 2017, I gave birth to my first daughter. She was born with microcephaly and a deformed brain due to a genetic mutation. We had no idea until she was born and it was heart-wrenching to say the least. My husband and I thought that would be my downfall. Our girl suffered from so much, I worked full time and was finishing up my senior year in college. Somehow I managed to buckle down and handled the circumstances extremely well.
In July 2018, our baby girl passed away at 8 months old. You can’t truly comprehend the loss of a child until you have experienced it. I found out I was pregnant after she passed, but it wasn’t the happiest occasion for us. We knew the baby had a 25% chance to be born with the same genetic defect and the thought of that weighing on us was almost unbearable. I became so withdrawn from my sons and the baby growing inside of me and became more attached to my husband because he truly understood what I was feeling.
It wasn’t until I gave birth to my youngest, an extremely healthy and beautiful baby girl, that I started feeling better. It was like I was still missing a part of me, but I had also gained such a blessing and I became close to my sons again.
7) Did you come across any resources that helped you?
I think the only thing that truly helped me get started on my recovery, other than medication, was outpatient intensive group therapy. I don’t think I’d be where I am today had I not participated in that.
I got my medical training from Google search, just like many people, but I never came across anything that I connected with.
I love learning, so finishing my degree and having that sense of accomplishment after all I had endured was so gratifying.
One book that I read the last time I had been hospitalized and really helped to shift my mindset was The Alchemist 25th Anniversary Edition by Paulo Coehlo. It’s a fairly quick and easy read but contains so much power in its message. I won’t spoil it for those you haven’t read it, but I highly recommend.
8) What is one thing you try to do each week as self-care?
Something I had to learn when I was a new mom was to be gentle with myself and allow myself to take a break from whatever is going on that is causing me mental distress without feeling bad. That’s one piece of advice I will never stop implementing. I don’t care what anyone thinks, so when I need a break from the kids, I take that break even if it lasts the whole day or the entire weekend. I am thankful that my husband has been by my side throughout all of this, and he lovingly encourages me to get some rest when he recognizes my warning signs.
Now that my sons are getting older, they are beginning to recognize when I’m just having one of those days. My oldest son will ask me if I remembered to take my medicine and if I needed to go lay down. While I could feel guilty about my 6-year-old worrying about me, I don’t because this is our life and he understands that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes.
9) What advice would you give a parent struggling with a perinatal mental illness?
It’s hard to offer general advice to someone because what everyone is going through is so different. However, I will say that remembering that you’re dealing with an ILLNESS is key. Mental illness is not a choice, it’s something that occurs in a lot of people to varying degrees, but you have the power to manage your illness. You are not going to feel good every day, but that just comes with the territory. Be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself the space to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling. Surround yourself with people who support you no matter what. And finally, remember that the sun will shine again.
You can’t pour from an empty cup. Aubrey writes about self-care and learning how to put yourself first after becoming a parent. Find Aubrey on her blog, As Told By Aubrey, her Facebook page, and Instagram.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Aubrey! If you have any kind words of encouragement, please leave them below.
Surviving the Darkness is an ongoing blog series to help raise awareness of PMADs. If you’re a survivor and want to tell your story, please fill out this form.
Today I’m welcoming Gigi, who struggled with mental illness during pregnancy. I’m so happy she’s sharing her experience with us today because mental and emotional changes during pregnancy are not talked about as much as they should be.
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I live in the Greater Toronto Area in Ontario, Canada. I am a Mathematician turned high school teacher turned pharmacist turned stay at home mom of 4 kids born within 5 years. Life is hard but beautiful. It’s challenging but incredible. And as a mom, I stand amazed at my blessings yet beaten by the challenges that come attached to them. Moms are heroes.
What was your diagnosis?
I struggled with an instability and unpredictability in my mood and mental well-being specifically during my pregnancies. It was not severe enough to be diagnosed but it was enough to rock my world and teach me so many lessons.
When did you realize something was wrong or that you needed help?
I did not feel able to control my emotions and have a normal conversation without getting very riled up. I avoided help for a long time. I was eventually convinced to seek cognitive behavioral therapy which helped very much.
Were you ever screened for a PMAD?
What did your treatment plan look like?
I learned that each time I became pregnant, my hormonal changes would affect my mood stability. It took a lot of humility to admit that. My treatment included therapy (and giving birth to the baby).
Did you face any challenges on your road to recovery?
My biggest challenge was my own mindset and self-talk. I come from a culture and an upbringing where I need to always be strong and invincible. Until today, I struggle with a very toxic, inner critic.
Did you come across any resources that helped you?
I was blessed to come across a PPD meetup for moms at my local early-years center. This is a government-funded program for children ages 6 and under and their moms. Often, it is geared toward the kids, but my local center was insightful enough to start this incredible program. Moms were just encouraged to chat and share. It was incredibly therapeutic.
What is one thing you try to do each week as self-care?
Take at least half a day to myself – even if I spend the evening in a local coffee shop with my journal.
What advice would you give a parent struggling with a perinatal mental illness?
This too shall pass. Believe that and hold on to it. Give yourself grace and wait for the storm to pass. Don’t expect your best self right now. And that’s okay.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Gigi! Get to know Gigi better by visiting her blog, Life Full of Sunshine, where she writes about motherhood. You can also find her on Facebook.