Monthly Archives: June 2011

Guest Post from @SavageLaura: A tale of two sisters & the power of social media

Last summer. It was terrifying.

My heart skipped a thousand beats and my butt barely clung to the edge of my office chair when “I’m at the hospital. I’ll call you back” were the last words my mother said before the call ended. My eyes filled with tears. That lump in my throat, hard as a fist, reached down and wrenched my guts.

Rewind a few months, and I will tell you why.

It was the end of April, 2010 when a pretty yellow envelope peeked at me from inside the mailbox. It was addressed to me; my sister’s chicken-scratch handwriting a dead giveaway she was the sender. The cutest card adorned with white buttons and a pastel tree slipped out of the envelope. A cutesy font read “Your Family Tree is Growing More Beautiful Each Day”. Oh my God. I read it over and over, the blurb “See you in November” on the inside written in the same chicken-scratch handwriting.

Excitedly I fumbled with my cell phone to take a photo of myself, card next to a wide grin, and send it to my sister. Within minutes she was calling. An immediate barrage of questions ensued. “Yes, I really am pregnant. No, we don’t want to know what it is. Yes, I already told you I AM PREGNANT. Yes, mom knew. We wanted to wait until we were past the first trimester in case something happened.”

I was happy for her. For them. Really I was, but I couldn’t push aside some strange feeling that something wasn’t right. I could hear a smile in her voice, but it was entwined with a sort of sadness. Why didn’t she tell me? I’m her big sister… she could tell mom, but not me? My mind tried to recount the last month or two, searching my memory for something I may have said, or not said, or did or didn’t do. She had been quiet. Her calls had been infrequent.

A few weeks later I confronted my sister. She said she’d been a little down, and having morning sickness. And wanting to sleep a lot. She’d been real tired. Ding ding! I asked her about her meds. The antidepressants. I know my sister, and when the depression starts looming her recourse is to retreat to her bed and stay. For days.

At one point she broke down and cried. I encouraged her with whatever uplifting words I could muster. And then I asked her, “Have you talked to your doctor about this? Pregnancy blues are one thing, but you sound miserable. You really should talk to her.”

And that was the beginning of a long, horrible pregnancy.

I can’t even really recall what happened, or when, or why. But I do know that one summer morning I called my mom, her breath strained and that tone in her voice, “I’m at the hospital. I’ll call you back.” I was scared to death. I managed, somehow, to call my mother when she was walking into an emergency room at a hospital three hours away from where she was supposed to be.

My sister had been admitted by her OB. Delusional and suffering anxiety attack after anxiety attack, an orange band was secured around her wrist. Her shoelaces removed. Her purse and its contents taken. She had been placed on a suicide watch.

The psych ward became her world for a week. My sister had access to psychiatrists, therapists, and even a nutritionist due to a discovery of an eating disorder she had hidden for years. They tried all the pregnancy-safe drugs available, supplements, diets and exercise. But it didn’t help. My sister’s downward spiral was in full force and moving fast.

After she had been hospitalized for a third time, their last resort was electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT. Most patients receive benefits from this treatment, especially pregnant women since it doesn’t harm the baby. I was shocked (no pun intended) and buried myself with articles, anything I could read and get my hands on. My mom had quit her summer job and resorted to living with my sister and her husband, desperately trying to hold it together herself. I became my mother’s confidant. At times she would call, and I’d listen to hours of tears and sniffles.

I believe I didn’t sleep more than four hours straight for two months, my sister’s emotional rollercoaster weighing heavy on my mind.

By October, emotionally spent and drained, my sister had been through it all – gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, tremendous weight gain, nightmare after nightmare. Her doctor agreed it was time to induce. At 34 weeks she gave birth to my beautiful niece, weighing 4 lbs 14 oz and a headful of silky hair.

But the fight wasn’t over.

Due to the medications, my niece was unable to eat for 24 hours. Even more depressing news, my sister was unable to breastfeed. My mother still scared out of her mind. And then the news that my niece would have to stay in the NICU for four weeks blew my sister down like a violent midnight tornado.

My sister and her husband finally brought their daughter home, it was so foreign. Here was this baby that was in her belly, but had been taken and cared for by these other women. For four weeks. And now she was stuck, all alone, with this tiny person she didn’t know. Loved? Yes, with all her heart. Bonded? No. Once they brought her daughter home, it was as if she’d stepped in the path of a freight train; her world had been turned upside down as it went from being self-sufficient to OMG WTF I have this crying thing 24 hours a day.

As weeks went by, my sister called every couple of days to vent. Until one day she had called me twice a day, at work, for two weeks straight. I had had enough. And as much as I wanted to say “Get the f**k over it. Put your big girl panties on. Shit or get off the pot”, I knew I couldn’t. And until she decided she wanted to do those things, it was pointless to waste my breath.

Now. I’m going to tell you something about being a big sister. No matter how bad you get pissed off, or irritated, or want to haul off and slug your little sister(s), you still love them with all your heart. When they hurt, you hurt. When they’re happy, you’re happy. But when they’re miserable and can’t do anything about it, you do what ever it takes, come Hell or high water, to open their eyes. To fill their heart with golden love and make their soul sing. You roll up them sleeves and take charge. Why? Because you’re THE big sister. That’s why.

For me, taking charge meant scouring the Internet for hours, looking for postpartum resources until my tired eyes would send me into a migraine. I looked up mother’s groups, even though I knew my sister wouldn’t go. Short of myself driving 12 hours in order to MAKE her go, I knew it was impossible. I have a husband, and a daughter, too.

One day (and I’m still not sure quite how it happened) I was on twitter, when a tweet caught my eye. Someone I had been newly following, a friend of a friend sort of thing, tweeted something about motherhood and then put ‘#ppdchat’ at the end. My eyes got huge. I’m telling you, I’m pretty sure I pee’d my pants with excitement. And being the bossy move-out-of-the-way big sister that I am, I simply tweeted: Need #ppdchat info.

I still tear up about it, like right now, but this simple tweet changed my sister’s life. The power of social media came to my rescue. And somehow I am sure God had a hand in it. It all happened so fast that within ten minutes I had a message from Lauren Hale, of My Postpartum Voice, giving me her email. Within 24 hours I had been in contact with a therapist whose office is located five minutes from my sister’s house. FIVE MINUTES. TWITTER. WOW.

It has taken time, months, and will probably take years for my sister to heal. She is receiving help, guidance, and nurturing to become the mother she has always wanted to be. I know it’s not easy. I mean, I had a touch of depression after pregnancy. Nothing to the magnitude my sister has endured. And I hope I never will.

I do know this. Never be afraid to speak up for someone who can’t. Someone so down and distraught is neither sinking nor swimming, just stuck treading water. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. Do not be afraid to reach out and grab a hand for help. Do not be afraid to try. Do not be afraid.

Go. Do. Be.

Laura Savage finds at least four new gray hairs every morning. At thirty, she still wears a retainer (only when she sleeps).
She has battled migraines, college algebra, ugly prehistoric-looking centipedes, and an addiction to Dr. Pepper. And won. 
Laura currently lives in Southern Colorado with her husband, daughter, and three canine companions.

Whatever Wednesday: I am not my @klout score

If you’re at all active in the Social Media realm, you are familiar with Klout. You either have it or you don’t. You either joke about it or you take it very seriously. Klout defines some. It confuses others. It depresses many more because try as they might, they just can’t get their Klout score any higher.

In the interest of full disclosure, my Klout score is 62. It’s been that way for months now. Not terribly bad for someone who has a niche blog and mostly socializes on Twitter. Thing is, my Klout score means nothing to me.

The people over at Klout lay out how they determine your score on their Understanding the Influence Metric page. From their page: ” The Klout score is highly correlated to clicks, comments and retweets.” They then go on to describe how they test, retest, use machines, etc, to determine your Klout score.

My Klout will never be determined by a machine.

I will never be defined by my Klout.

Ever.

When I started blogging over four years ago, it was for a very selfish yet not so selfish reason. Unexpectedly pregnant with our third child, I needed to reframe my pregnancy after two very serious episodes of Postpartum OCD, depression, and a case of PTSD from our second daughter’s NICU stay. After ferociously reading “What am I Thinking: Having a Baby after Postpartum Depression” by Karen Kleiman in which she suggested reframing your pregnancy in a positive light, I decided to start blogging. I was already active in Postpartum Advocacy and had been for a few months by then. Blogging seemed  a natural evolution for my advocacy. So I went to WordPress, snagged a blog, and began to write.

I knew nothing about social media when I started blogging. Twitter was brand new then and FaceBook wasn’t yet on my radar. I blogged away. I found it helped with the tough days. Knowing I would be able to sit down at the end of it or whenever I needed to and just pour my heart out made the hard things easier. My mind began to rework the hard things into funny things. Karen’s idea took hold. My pregnancy began to be positive despite the initial depression which, quite frankly, made me wish at my first few appointments that they wouldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat and I could go on without being pregnant. For the first three months of my pregnancy I was delusional in thinking that the pregnancy was not real and was instead, just a dream. I did not begin to fall in love with the idea of this unexpected pregnancy until nearly five months along.

Eventually I joined Twitter. I do not remember what I talked about in the early days. I do know that @MommyGeekology was one of the first friends I really made there. (We STILL have yet to meet in person – we SO need to remedy that!) From there, my friends on Twitter grew. I shared my blog posts, found other parents to whom I could relate, and was absolutely not shy about discussing the hard stuff with anyone.

A year ago I really embraced the power of Twitter. I started #PPDChat on the third anniversary of my blog. I had no high hopes for attendance nor did I have any expectations for how things would go once chat started. Would I be talking to myself? Would others want to talk about the hard stuff with me? Who would show up? Would I lose followers for talking about nothing but Postpartum Mood Disorders twice a day once a week? Taking a deep breath, I dove in to the first chat.

Our first chat was small and cozy but the sharing blew me away. The evening chat was slightly bigger. I’ve tracked the numbers with TweetReach after each chat. But again, for me, it’s just a way of keeping record. The world likes tangible. I’m not a fan of the tangible. I measure chats by how many people I’ve reached. By how many people asked me questions. Or how many people took a deep breath and said “Hi. I’m hurting. Can you help me?”

My online presence is not about the numbers. It never has been and it never will be about the numbers.

My online presence is about the love and comfort others feel when they talk to me. About the way people mention me to people they know are or might be struggling with a Postpartum Mood Disorder. It’s about the heart. My heart as well as the growth and change in the hearts of those who talk to me. Watching people heal and grow stronger is an amazing thing. Knowing that you’re a part of it is even more amazing. It’s humbling.

One year after #PPDChat started, we’re still going strong. In fact, to speak to just how much I don’t pay attention to the numbers – I started a closed FB group for the #PPDChat ladies this past week. It’s a safe place where they can express themselves in more than 140 characters outside of chat. (Note here: you MUST be an active member of #PPDChat to join.) In less than two days, there were 50 members. There are now 61. I’m astounded. I had no idea so many were chatting. I truly love each and every one of the moms and dads who come to me for help. I care deeply for them. You can’t put a number on love. You can’t put a number on heart. You can’t put a number on networking that level of compassion.

Yes, I understand why so many put the emphasis on Klout and why it’s necessary. It’s a tangible measurement of your reach. According to Klout, my true reach is 1k. In my heart though, I know it’s so much more – it’s limitless… and it’s only limitless because of those who have reached out to me, found solace, and then shared me as a resource with others.

I am humbled and grateful for all who have sought me for solace and compassion as you navigate the very dark place filled with Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders. I can only pray I’m allowed to continue to be a shining light in that dark place for years and years to come…. outlasting even Klout.

Guest post by @ksluiter: and now my depression is affecting those not yet born…

Hi.

It’s me, Katie, from Sluiter Nation.

I have a problem.

I’m not pregnant.

Sigh.  Yes, this is a problem.

Let me back up the truck for those of you who don’t know my back story.

I have an almost-two-year-old son, Eddie. Three months before Eddie turned a year, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety.

I have been fighting this damn disease ever since March of 2010.

The therapist I see and my general practitioner both agree that at this point?  Because I had a pre-existing anxiety disorder?  I can likely drop the “postpartum” part of the label.

I suffer from depression and anxiety.

And I am trying to get pregnant.

Also?  My husband suffers from extremely mild depression.

up until very recently we were both medicated.

Do you know how hard it is to conceive when both players are on drugs?  The med that my hubs was on?  Decreased sperm count and made it difficult to…um…finish.

You can’t get a baby without the finish, people.

My meds kill libido.

So let’s recap.  One of us doesn’t want it and the other can’t complete the task anyway.

And here we are…three months later…no baby.

Not surprising, but still frustrating.

So now the hubs is off his meds.  And he is all raring to go…all the time.

Yay for lots of baby making, right?

Wrong.

It’s still hard for me to want to.  I mean, I so want to.  I want another baby so bad it’s hard to be excited when others are blessed with little lives.  And I want to be close with my husband.

But…stupid medication.  stupid depression sucking the joy out of my sex life.  stupid anxiety about what my body looks like.

People keep telling me to relax.

How do I do that?    How do I enjoy sexy time more than only a couple times…a  month?  Because it’s going to take more than that for us to make a human.

I am so tired of this stupid depression and anxiety taking over every aspect of my life.

It stole so much precious time away from my son and my husband.  And now I feel like it’s taking time away from my not-yet-created baby.

A Mother’s support is key during mental illness

According to an article over at Scientific Daily, what Mom thinks of her child’s mental illness matters when it comes to that child’s self-esteem. The study, carried out by a sociologist at Northern Illinois University, found that more than any other family member, what a Mother felt and communicated in regard to her child’s mental illness (in this study it was specifically schizophrenia), carried the most weight with said child, especially when these views were negative.

What researchers also found was that the greater exhibited levels of initial symptoms and therefore lower self-esteem in relation to symptoms, the more likely the mother was to reinforce popular yet stigmatizing beliefs about the child in relation to his/her mental illness.

Despite the small size of the study (only 129 mothers of adult schizophrenics were followed over an 18-month period), I find this study interesting from a Postpartum Mood Disorder perspective. All too often, I hear about women struggling with a Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorder who have chosen not to share their diagnosis with their mothers specifically. Or have shared their diagnosis with their mothers only to be told to “snap out of it” or that “it will pass.”

Family is often our first line of support and defense when it comes to any illness. But when it comes to mental illness, for many, family is the last line of defense because we fear stigmatization and exile from those we love the most. This study also reminds me of another study which concluded after fMRI’s of both depressed and non-depressed women that  a Mother’s criticism caused distinct neural reaction in formerly depressed women.

Is all of this related to the intricate female to female  relationship? Do we really care so much about what another woman, especially our own mother, thinks about us that we are willing to allow it to so definitively shape our own self-view? I realize we grow up wishing to please our parents but why is it what our Mother thinks of us that tends to matter most?

As women, should we not always strive to be the best for ourselves, not caring what any other woman thinks of us, not even our own Mother? How do we break out of that mold? How do we grow past attacking each other, past the guilt of having let another woman down? How do we learn to live for ourselves in a society which preaches competition and rewards those who achieve so much on a daily basis?

When the Mom wars begin to affect how the mentally ill view themselves, it’s gone too far. When the Mom wars delay other mothers from healing and finding the support they so desperately need, it’s gone too far.

A mother is where you go when you need a hug. A mother is where you go when your soul needs to be soothed. A mother is peace. A mother is love. A mother is not harmful. A mother is not hateful. A mother is not a source of shame about oneself. A mother is home.

When a mother ceases to be love, solace, compassion, and peace, we have made a wrong turn. Even mothers who are struggling with Postpartum Mood & Anxiety disorders are all of these things—they are simply unable to elicit the reaction within themselves without a bit of help and healing.

When a Mother, who, for no other reason, sees her child as stigmatizing and reinforces low self-esteem in her child simply because of that child’s mental illness? We as a society should be ashamed.

If you’ve struggled with a Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorder, I would love for you to leave a comment about whether or not you shared your diagnosis with your mother—if you did or did not, why? What was the reaction?

Let’s get to Just Talking.