Category Archives: advocate

Ohming Postpartum Depression Away

meditation-884687_640The sunlight flowed into the room, bouncing off the parquet floor and spiraling up toward the white walls as women began to stroll in, bedecked in yoga pants, nursing tops, and covered in infants. Soft music played in the background as the waterfall in the front of the room bubbled and sputtered to life.

A woman entered the room once all the mothers were settled and latched their infants. She sat down in the front, her curly hair spilling down her back, nearly reaching the floor. As she adjusted her body into a seated pose, she began to hum as she reached her arms toward the ceiling, which was sprinkled with skylights to invite even more warm rays into the meditation room.

The mothers hummed along with her, deeply breathing in the soothing surroundings and welcoming the excise of the chaos of their lives outside of the room. Breath in, exhale out. Breathe in, ohm out. OHMMMMMMMMM.

For forty five minutes they did this, breathing in, breathing out, letting their minds clear of everything and anything that might possibly distract them from their current state of bliss. OHHHHMMMMMMMM.

Upon closing, the waterfall slowed, the chimes ceased as the water no longer washed over them.  Their guide stood, and made her way to the exit.

The women gathered their things, and went on their way. They’d be back tomorrow, they said to each other. For now, let’s all go to Whole Foods and buy only organic foods and supplements because we absolutely cannot let this motherhood thing get us sad. And then, we’ll meet in the garden at the park to pray fervently to keep the negative feelings away from our hearts.

With a spring in their steps and a clear path ahead of them, they all wished each other Namaste as they meandered away to fulfill their guaranteed destinies of avoiding depression after giving birth…without turning to the evils of medicine or therapy like that one mother over there. She cheated, they said, among themselves, as they unlocked their cars and settled their infants in for the quick drive to the Whole Foods. She’s not Ohm like us.

If only it were THAT easy, right?

Oh, I’ll just eat right. I’ll meditate, I’ll pray, I’ll do everything right and *I* won’t get depression after the birth of a child. And if I do, it’s totally big pharma’s fault because all they want to do is sell me drugs which will get me better.

STOP.

Nope. Hippocrates wrote about postpartum depression way back in the day – (you know, old school.. the father of modern medicine theology/ethics?) so this isn’t some new-fangled disorder created by Big Pharma just to get you to part with your money. 

Marianne WilliamsonThere’s been an irresponsible post by Marianne Williamson on Facebook regarding the recent announcement recommending mothers be screened for depression both during and after pregnancy is like giving stigma a nice fat hug. Follow the money, she says. Meditate more, she says. Pray more, she says. LOVE more. But dear heavens, leave big Pharma out of any possible solution because they prescribe meds like candy.

Know what, Marianne? We tell moms to run like hell from doctors who practice medicine that way. We empower them to rule out physical causes before just popping a pill. We tell them that hormonal changes are normal and what to look for beyond those changes. We follow the research. We follow the stories of the mothers who share them with us. We do not muffle their voices. We do not minimize their pain or magnify their shame.

And yet – in one fell swoop, you’ve managed to do exactly what you did not want to do – muffle voices. Do you have any idea how difficult it is for a new mother to speak up about experiencing anything besides joy and happiness after the arrival of a new little one? It’s incredibly difficult. We fight for it every single day. It’s exhausting. But if it helps one..just ONE mother – it’s worth it.

I do want to clarify that if meditation, nutrition, and prayer worked for you – that’s fantastic. I’m truly happy for you. But. It’s important to remember that not all solutions work for all mothers and to discredit one method of treatment which has helped so many is to do a disservice to those it has helped. It’s like giving Stigma a big fat hug and shaming millions into silence because they dared to take meds that HELPED THEM.

Ohm all you want if it helps. Ohm it away. But.

Be open to other methods. Don’t judge others for their journey to wellness.

Because when we do that?

We hurt all of us.

On Shonda Rhimes, Race, & Postpartum Depression

Last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy has some folks flurrying around, claiming it stigmatizes mental illness and does some serious damage to women who struggle with Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. (Click here to read more about this battle moms are taking to Shonda’s alleged shaming of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders.)

I’d like to take a view that is the polar opposite of being infuriated.

Shonda Rhimes did everything right last night.

Everything.

(This is where you go elsewhere if you haven’t seen the episode yet and don’t want spoilers – in fact, go get Happy with Pharrell!)

We start the episode out coming back from winter break – we last found out that Kepner & Jackson’s baby has serious issues and Derrick is leaving for DC after a fight with Meredith.

HELLLOOOO STRESS and high tensions.

The opening scene involves Meredith discussing the hiring of a nanny with Callie. The conversation is interrupted by the incoming trauma of a mom who drove off a bridge with her two kids in the car. At this stage, we do not know the ages of the children and I don’t recall if they mention mom is pregnant at this time (ie, no need to jump to the PMAD hopscotch square yet). Meredith remarks, as everyone starts to walk, “Maybe she needed a nanny.”

Doesn’t every mom need a nanny at some point or other? Why does this imply a mental illness? It doesn’t. It implies motherhood is fucking difficult and sometimes, mom just needs some help (which we do).

Then, we fast forward to another scene where Dad arrives at the hospital after Mom has, only armed with the knowledge that there was an accident and believes someone has pushed his wife’s car off a bridge. He’s dumbfounded to find out it was his wife who was the driver – and rightfully so. Would you truly believe that your spouse were capable of driving off a bridge?

Stephanie interviews the husband as doctors and nurses prep his wife in a room, asking him if there’s anything he had noticed about her that – he interrupts, and says “You mean do I think she’s crazy? No! Absolutely not!” He then sits down and starts to list signs he’d noticed – fatigue, forgetting things, stressed, etc. Admits he’s been working a lot of hours and perhaps hadn’t been paying attention like he should have been.

Meredith, meanwhile, becomes the woman’s advocate and pushes back against any judgement implying the patient is, for lack of a better word, crazy. In fact, Meredith is the one to push for a physical diagnosis of her behaviour instead of a psychiatric one.

In the second half of the episode, the husband breaks down with Jackson, weeping, asking how on earth he could have missed this and how could he have been prepared for something like this to happen? Of course this hits Jackson hard as he is facing the birth of a child with serious health issues.

April, in her own personal hell after learning the situation with her own unborn child, goes on the most glaring rant against the patient’s behaviour.   Callie attempts to calm her down but doesn’t really get anywhere. April’s reaction, to me, was completely justified because she’s reacting from a place of hurt and is projecting.

Here’s how I saw the episode go down, in bullet points:

  • Situation/stigma presented (start in the messy)
  • Situation/stigma delved into
  • Situation/stigma pushed back against

How often do we see a show that deals with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder by introducing the stigma, toying with it, but not dealing with it and instead treating it like the elephant in the room?

Grey’s didn’t do that last night.

No.

In fact, they brought the stigma in, expanded it by using a woman and family of colour, and then they smashed right through every single damn stigma aspect they introduced.

And yet, that’s still not enough.

A groundbreaking episode presented to us on a popular television show run by the ONLY woman of colour in TV running things right now and that’s STILL NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

What the actual hell?

I watched the episode, waiting for the horror to unveil itself. Instead, I found myself agreeing with every single situation I had seen bashed as being handled poorly. Every single situation in this episode seen as “stigmatizing” simply WAS NOT STIGMATIZING. AT ALL.

I expected one of the children to be an infant. But nope. Well out of toddler years for both children.

There was simply no reason to fly off the handle for this episode. None. Except wait, the line where someone mutters “crazy moms who…” We push back against this as hard as we can with facts, with exposure of what it’s really like to live with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder. Guess what? Even though last night’s mom didn’t have a PMAD? They pushed back. They had a solid grasp on reality and they exposed it. Reality is, this is where we are as a culture – and that isn’t going to change over night. I, for one, welcome a show which is willing to push the boundaries of stigma and what exists there but also be willing to yank it back. Because in reality? Not everything is neatly tied up and beautiful replete with facts and details.

Shonda Rhimes starts where it’s messy. Then she wades through it and brings it to conclusion. Does it end up where we want it to? No. But you know what? It starts with what we recognize as a CULTURE. Is that right? Not yet. But we’re getting there and last night’s episode of Grey’s acknowledged that in a big way because it:

  • introduced a woman of colour who did something unspeakable
  • had the husband deal with it appropriately
  • involved the staff reacting in an appropriate medical manner without judging mom

In my book, that’s GROUNDBREAKING, not shameful. Not at all.

Thank you, Shonda Rhimes, for putting this episode together and doing so in a respectful and mindful manner. Keep that up.

 

Guest Post: On Meeting An Angel

PP Blogathon BlingToday’s post in celebration of Katherine Stone is brought to you by Deborah Forhan Rimmler, a member of the board of Postpartum Progress. There’s no intro to do it justice so I’ll just let you read.

I’m always curious about where God might pop up.  You see, I’m the kind of girl who finds a connection to the Divine in random places—a quiet snuggle with my boys, when my husband loves me even when I’m being a jerk, a long bike ride, my dear aunt’s funeral.  You get the point.

Five years ago I was struck with horrible postpartum OCD, the soul stealing kind where you have visions of hurting your own baby.  Even then, I was still lucky.  I had a swanky doula, got a great psychiatrist and slowly got better.  Still, there was this huge gaping hole in my heart that only I knew was there.  I swear you could see all the way to infinity and back that hole was so big.  I was sure I would never really be happy again or be joyful as mother because this terrible experience haunted me.  I put on brave face. I cared for and played with my baby.  I prayed, tried to meditate, did yoga, and watched chick flicks. I did all my happy things.  Only it was still there.  That big gaping hole of fear and sadness over this experience.

Then I met an angel—the working class kind, which in my opinion is the very best type.  You see, she is one of us.  A human with no special wings or privity with God’s plans for the universe.  She was just a very brave mother who had dared to share her story with the world about how she, too, had these intrusive thoughts about hurting her baby boy.  And I mean the whole world—she put in on a blog!  She just put it out there in a matter-of-fact way about how postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD and psychosis are simply treatable diseases.  And she got other women to share their stories on her blog.  And she gave up her lucrative marketing career, at a significant financial cost to her family, to build this blog day after day.  For. Ten. Years.

Every story was just as beautiful and brave as the one before.  And in these stories there was a divine truth that healed my draining soul.  We women are not alone, and it is not our fault we got sick.  I even felt God’s love for me, my sick brain, and all the other suffering mothers past and present in the community of these stories.  And the gaping hole in my heart and soul got plugged with the honesty and bravery of these women sharing their truth.  And one day I started to feel happy again.  Full of hope for my life as a mother.

Thank you, Katherine Stone, for being that angel.  Day after day you shine the light of goodness and grace on the dark side of motherhood helping to piece our broken hearts back together.  And when that light sparks a sad, tired soul and starts to help it heal, you give the gift that only a true angel can give:  Hope.

Bless you my darling friend and congratulations on the Ten Year Anniversary of Postpartum Progress!

Rimmler Family 09 051Deborah is a postpartum OCD survivor and on the board of Postpartum Progress, Inc.  She is a corporate attorney and lives with her husband and two sons in Western Massachusetts.

#PPDChat Topic 07.07.14: Celebrating 10 Years of Postpartum Progress

ppdchat-07-07-14On July 13, Postpartum Progress turns 10.

Since inception, Katherine Stone has done quite a bit in the world of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. She’s fiercely led us forward, called people out on the error of their ways, and is whole-heartedly dedicated to making the world an easier place to navigate when women are struck with one of the issues on the spectrum of PMADs.

Tonight, at #PPDChat, we’re going to talk about Katherine and what she’s done, what she’s doing, and share memories of how she’s helped us. Did you know she supported #PPDChat when it was just an idea in my head four years ago? She did. She’s supported quite a few of us as we’ve moved into advocacy and we are beyond grateful.

Be sure to join us tonight at #PPDChat as we celebrate the woman, the work, and the sisterhood she has created.

See you tonight at 830pm ET!

When the Awareness Month Ends

Where does the awareness go?

Does it get tossed in the trashcan? Do we save it and recycle it for next year’s shindig?

Or do we raise the banner and keep it waving for the entire year?

Awareness months are fabulous things.

But there’s a fault with them – they last only 28, 30, or 31 days.

Everything has an awareness month these days, it seems. We are all screaming about them from the social media rooftops. Pay attention to this, do that, say this, share that, use this hashtag, find this picture on Instagram, enter this, like this, donate here, etc.

It can all lead so very quickly to donor fatigue or the inability to comprehend anything regarding any of the topics we are supposed to give our all to because well, it’s the topic du mois.

Do you go home when it’s the first of the next month?

Or are you still there, in the stands, in the midst of the mess, yelling at anyone who will listen that this is something we should still give a damn about?

We need people who will stay and fight. People who will give their all for more than 28, 30, or 31 days. The people who scream and shout even when there’s nothing left – the people who sacrifice their entire heart and soul to save those around them – those are the people who make the difference. THOSE are the people I want to surround myself with as I move forward in life.

We all matter. Do we need to be ramped up even when it’s not THE MONTH for our cause? Yes and no. Advocacy is a shout in the sunshine but it’s also a quiet whisper in the dark. Sometimes it’s as simple as sharing your story. Other times, it’s far more complex and exhausting.

Whatever the form your advocacy takes, don’t drop it just because it’s no longer the right month.

Carry that flag with you throughout the year. Hold your head high, be a shining example and move others toward your cause by exemplifying the type of person you are inside – a fierce warrior capable of surviving anything life may throw your way.

A Different Breed

She sighs, in the dark, as her baby snuggles closer to her neck, his chubby fists opening and closing as he exhales and relaxes his body with a small whimper. She waits, supporting him, waiting for that moment when the weight of sleep brings a random tingle or two to her forearm. Stands up slowly, using muscles in her thighs to lift her upper body as she does so, careful to not a muscle touching her now sleeping infant. Eyes flutter shut as she puts one foot in front of the other, heading for the crib. Baby shifts, stutter sighs, and moves, nuzzling further into her neck. She moves her hand to the back of his head, rubbing it softly as she hums their song.

She manages to lay him down and leave the room. As she crawls into bed, her calves sink into the mattress first, then the exhaustion surges upward until her eyes slam shut until morning, all of an hour and a half away when she will wake up to a hungry baby, a dog with a full bladder, and a toddler who has probably strewn cheerios over half the house because she needed to feed the dog.

Motherhood.

It changes us.

Mentally.

Physically.

For some, motherhood is a warm field on a sunny day filled with laughter, babbling brooks, playful deer, and an intoxicating joy.

For others, motherhood is a dark room in the bottom of the keep, covered with bars, the key well beyond our reach. We fight, we scream, we rage against the thick door but it won’t budge. We see the warm field in the sun from the window a the top of our room and long for it – long to talk walks with our little ones as the sun beats down upon our faces and a smile spreads across our face but instead, we are trapped inside our own special hell.

Motherhood without a mental illness is not the easiest road to tread, either. Heck, life in general requires some level of tenacity. One of the most frustrating things I am faced with is not discounting the struggles that each of us go through – respecting the journey of every single mother without demeaning the journey of another. And yet, it’s my goal.

Over the past several years, I have been privileged enough to meet some of the most amazing and resilient parents. Parents who fight for themselves, for their children, for their relationships, for life. Parents who work through even deeper hells than I can even imagine and still manage to parent their kids, all the while, worrying about how their experience will affect their kids, their marriage, their jobs, their lives. Yet, every morning, they wake, get out of bed, and take another step forward toward healing, even if they are absolutely exhausted.

A friend of mine posted on FB a quip about hockey players being a different breed. He was commenting on Rich Peverly’s alleged desire to get back into the game despite having experienced a cardiac event on the bench. Any other sport and the player wouldn’t be thinking about getting back in the game, right?

The same is true of mothers battling against mental illness, whatever form it may take for them. We want to get back in the game. We want to play, we want to laugh. We want to be free to just…be…without the burden or restraint of our mental health on our souls. This is why we cherish the good days and wade through the bad ones. Why we hold on so tightly to every single glimmer of hope crossing our hearts.

We are a different breed.

We aren’t worse.

We aren’t better.

We’re just different and we want to be loved for who we are, not what you think we should be or could be.

We just are.

Love us anyway?

On Walking Through Life as a Postpartum Mood Disorder Survivor

I had a very interesting discussion yesterday as part of an interview with a woman who is putting together a proposal for a book about Perinatal Mood Disorders. Both of us struggled with PP OCD and for the first time, I think we nailed it when we discussed how Postpartum becomes part of your life, even after the initial “crisis” phase passes.

You see, struggling with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder affects your entire life. It affects how you function, how you relate to everyone and everything around you, and it ultimately changes your outlook on life. This change, this transformation, at least for me, is directly related to know just how far down I slid when it struck me from out of the blue the first time around.

Diagnosis is one of the first steps toward healing. Diagnosis leads you to help and regaining your footing on the proper path. We all walk different paths and for some of us, our diagnosis becomes our mask. For others, it becomes just one part of us. Or for others, it becomes the very definition of who we are as a person, a mother, and whatever else we are…some become the personification of a PMAD. One of the things we hit on is how women who do not define themselves completely as their diagnosis find it easier to heal because for them, it’s essentially a broken leg instead of a full body cast if that makes sense. It doesn’t take as long to heal just one part vs. the whole thing. Even then, there are always mitigating factors affecting the pace of individual healing.

When you fight back, you develop coping mechanisms to pull yourself through. These look different for everyone and depend on how defined you allow your sense of self to be by the diagnosis of a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder. It is also important to note that these coping mechanisms may continue to be part of your life for the remainder of your days. It takes 21 days to develop a new habit. Therefore, it makes sense that if you continue something for longer than 21 days, it will become a habit. Whether this habit is healthy or not is up to you and your physician to decide. If it’s minor, no worries. But if it affects your normal day-to-day functioning, it might be time to evaluate things and consider breaking this “habit” as it isn’t healthy.

Do I still carry some of my OCD habits with me from my Postpartum days? Absolutely. But I know they are not a sign that I am still fighting the beast. They are there because they were a part of who I was for a very long time. There are still signals that speak to me and let me know that I am spiraling down the dark path once again, however. My habits tend to increase and begin to interfere with my day to day living when this happens. For instance, I will obsessively brush my hair, stop listening to music, and start looking for things to be upset about if I start to feel overly stressed. Learning to recognize these is a huge leap forward and learning to accept that little quirks you developed with Postpartum are just that, quirks, is also a huge leap forward.

Today was a huge milestone for me. I cleaned and organized the entire first floor of our town house because it needed it, not because I needed to do it. Yes, the clutter was bugging me but not to the point that it made me twitchy. To clean and not “need” to clean felt fantastic. In fact, I’m sitting here, basking more in the accomplishment of having cleaned NOT because of my OCD and because it needed it than in the fact that the downstairs (including the front closet) is completely spotless.

Our habits stay with us after Postpartum because we have immersed ourselves in them for so long as a coping mechanism. Sometimes we have thoughts that carry us back to those dark days and it is important to recognize them as such – just thoughts, not an actual fall back into the dark hole (unless they persist for more than a week or two – then you may want to seek help). Some of us may move on to a deeper, lifelong diagnosis of a daily fight against mental health. But the thing to remember is that you are YOU. You are not your diagnosis, you are not your habits. You are YOU and YOU are amazing, even when it is darkest.

A Simple Dream

A mum in the UK recently took her own life. Fellow PPD blogger Ivy Shih Leung wrote a very long and insightful piece about it here.

While I have not read anything beyond Ivy’s piece, I want to address one of the issues Ivy touches on in her post. For me, it is one of the primary reasons women who struggle with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder still fight so desperately with reaching out for help and then with actually receiving the proper help.

Our battle has multiple levels. Were PMAD’s a video game, we would have to survive level after harrowing level before finally reaching a properly educated doctor or therapist. Some of us may be lucky enough to skip all these harrowing levels but for most of us, we are destined to fight with all we have while we don’t have much just to get by in a world expecting us to be super mom while we are at it.

First, we have to fight with ourselves to acknowledge that there is a problem.

Then, we fight with loved ones for help with every day tasks and with reaching out for help.  We fight the argument that we are “faking” or “pretending” just to get out of housework or parenting. We are, some of us, told to suck it up and get over it. Move on. We’ll fall in love with our children eventually. Worse yet, some of us are told depression is some sort of luxury the former generations did not have time with which to deal.

Next, we fight with the front desk folks at the doctor’s office who may tell us such things as “If you’re not suicidal, don’t call us until you are.” (And yes, shamefully, that DOES happen in real life).

We then level up to arguing with a doctor who may brilliantly tell us that our hormones should be back in order by now so of course it can’t be Postpartum Depression despite the fact that we just admitted several high risk symptoms to them. So we are referred to the therapist who calls and reschedules until we are exhausted and cancel altogether.

So we suck it up and try to make do on our own until the next baby when we completely fall apart and start the entire routine all over again. Only this time around, there is a little less resistance from family members and friends because they have seen you go through this before and realize that maybe, just maybe, she isn’t making it up this time around.

But we have to stay off the Internet because it’s a dangerous place for a woman with a PMAD to be – we will be judged for breastfeeding while taking medication or for giving formula because we have to medicate. We didn’t try hard enough to protect ourselves, there is something wrong with us. Damn straight there is something wrong with us – it’s an illness, it’s real, and it is hell.

Psychiatric stigma is bullshit. The divisiveness motherhood brings to a woman’s life is bullshit. Hell, sometimes just being a woman altogether is bullshit. Why we judge each other so harshly for our choices is so beyond me I don’t even know how to begin to understand why we do this. I’m serious – I truly do not understand the in-fighting or bickering.

It comes down to understanding one simple truth:

Each mother needs to do what is best for HER and for HER family. As long as she is doing just that, we do not need to judge, we do not need to place blame, stigma, guilt, or any other negative blanket upon her or her family.

The Internet can be a fabulous place for support if you end up surrounded by the right people and ignore the wrong people. It’s finding the wonderful people that is the challenge.

I have a simple dream, in closing. It’s a dream that one day, mothers of all sort of different beliefs, will be able to have a discussion about parenting without inadvertently reducing each other to panic attacks and/or tears because they’ve judged someone for doing something outside the realm of *their* comfort zone.

One day, right?

veteran-infographic

When You Thank A Vet

Today marks Veteran’s Day here in the United States. It’s a day we set aside to honor those who have fought so valiantly for our country.

With the advent of technology, reaching out to Veterans to declare your support is easier than ever before. Businesses, organizations, individuals – everyone is sending a shout out to Vets today. It is amazing to see the support flowing forth.

But.

I think there is an aspect we often forget about as we reach out to give our thanks to the vets who have fought for us through service in various branches of our military.

It is important to remember they are human too. They have emotions, reactions, and they too, are remembering their journey in their own way as we lavish them with praise and appreciation.

Some may struggle with PTSD. Others are lost in thoughts of brothers in arms lost to battle. Others contend with the idea that those who thank them for all they have taught them are themselves the teachers and worthy of praise.

We forget, all too often, I think, the intense emotional aspect of war. The toll it takes on all of us. Perhaps this is because best summed up by this quote:

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Is war something we are unable to closely associate with human emotion because of the very nature of it? Is battle too fierce? The fighting too gruesome? Do our psyches not allow us to carry the traumatic alongside the sensitivity? Is this our brain’s way of protecting us from an emotional overload? Or is it because the majority of soldiers for so long have been men and therefore not allowed to operate as anything less than robotic, keeping them from processing the emotions battle swells within them?

We do not broadcast our losses on the evening news as often as we should, a point made in this deeply moving post about a citizen sharing a last flight home by a soldier. Instead, we relegate ourselves to separation from the tremendous loss and focus instead on the reunions of soldiers with loved ones. We are not acknowledging, in my humble opinion, the steep and tragic cost associated with prolonged battle. The loss, the heartache, the raw emotions steeped in battle and drenched in blood shed against tyrants who dare to threaten our freedoms, are far too great for humanity to bear.

We, for whatever reason, do not often equate humanity with soldiering. Empathy and compassion fails to mesh well with the ferocity of battle. So when soldiering and emotion intersects, as it often does on Veteran’s Day for so many, it can be triggering. It may leave some feeling overwhelmed and not knowing quite how to deal with the gratitude flowing their way.

It is not like Christmas or Thanksgiving. We are not celebrating, we are honoring. There are no gifts or celebratory meals. Instead, there is quiet recognition and thoughtful consideration of all that our veterans have sacrificed. Like anything else, we all choose to do this differently for it is intensely personal for those of us who have a veteran in our lives. Whether they be friends, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, grandfathers, or grandmothers, how we choose to honor their service and their memories is as unique as a snowflake which falls with the first snow.

We may choose to honor them quietly or we may make a public statement. For me, today, I am wearing my grandfather’s tag and will probably at some point watch Mister Roberts, a movie I used to watch with my grandfather quite often. Both of my grandfathers served in the Navy in WWII and although they never spoke of it with me, I knew they carried their experiences with them, as all veterans do. Military service is a part of their souls and the very fiber of their beings. Once you have served, there is rarely a time when you can untangle soldier from human. Therein, in my opinion, lies the challenge in coming to grips with the flow of gratitude on Veteran’s Day.

I only saw my grandfather cry once – when we were at a play meant to raise funds for the WWII D-Day Monument. As the telegraph notifications came in reporting the deaths of the soldiers in Bedford, Virginia, the hall went completely silent. Deeper than an audible silence; the kind of silence which envelops a room when there is great respect for what is occurring. I glanced over at my grandfather at this point to see his cheeks soaked in tears. I quickly looked away and struggled to hide my own flooded cheeks shortly thereafter. We never spoke of these tears but I never forgot them for they symbolized the emotional depths of war for me and always will.

For many, in particular those who have seen war since 2001, today is different. The memories are recent, the pain is ongoing, and they have joined the Greatest Generation in knowing the pain of war. Yes, the pain. War is not some glorified wonderful thing. It is not the Hollywood version where there is a rise to action, action, and then a conclusion. It’s messy, it rips families apart, it pushes soldiers to their limits and back again, and if they’re lucky, they get to come home, alive and still intact both physically and mentally. For all too many, this is not the case, and their wounds may not be visible to the eye.

veteran-infographicSuicide rates among soldiers, for the first time ever, outnumbers the deaths occurring in active combat. There is PTSD, and number of additional other issues which, again, because of technology and advancements in mental health awareness & medicine, are now at the forefront of the adverse affects of war. Women who are deployed face a higher risk of Postpartum Depression which in turn, affects an entire generation. War truly leaves a mark on every one of us, both on and off the battlefield.

So today, when you thank a veteran, particularly a younger veteran, take the time to embrace that they may be filled with emotions they may not be ready for today as a result of the onslaught of gratitude. Take the time to realize that these brave men and women have lost loved ones, brothers in arms, and they are replaying this in their heads as you thank them for their service. Respect their journey but also take the time to check in with them and ask them how they are doing.

For they are soldiers, they are brave men and women, but beneath it all, they have a heart, a soul, and they have bled for us, some more than others. They deserve nothing less than our greatest compassion and understanding for the hell they witnessed on the battlefield as they fought for freedom from tyranny in our great country’s name.

I Should Have Stood UP

We have just arrived home from a quick bite out for lunch. It was at a small restaurant not too far away. We love the food and the atmosphere – usually. Today it was quiet and relatively slow but one table made up of four people, started to chat rather loudly after they finished eating. Of course this is par for dining out – it’s what people do – they eat, they talk, then they carry on with their day.

But this conversation – it hit home. It enraged me. I almost pulled up a chair to their table to figure out the nuances of it because I wanted to verbally bitch slap the woman with the short brown hair into 2014.

The table was comprised of two adult women and two obviously teenaged boys. They appeared to be brothers. One was probably mid-late teens with the other one just getting started. The younger one had a speech impediment. It was not at all horrific, it just made him sound as if he had an accent of sorts. In fact, that’s what I thought it was at first until I listened closer. While I hate this analogy, he sounded like Elmer Fudd but with obviously deeper issues than just his mispronunciation of an “r”.

The conversation was innocuous at first – discussing swimming, school work, etc. Then it turned to this young man’s speech.

The adult woman with the brown hair, we’ll call her Hilda for the sake of saving me from typing a lot more than necessary, laid into this poor young man for his speech. “You’re going to have a hard time getting a job..yadda yadda yadda… you should try harder, if you just don’t move your tongue… maybe if you did yadda yadda yadda..I can barely understand what he says most of the time.” You get the drift.

Hilda kept on at him.

He defended himself.

She kept going.

He KEPT defending himself. Finally he asked where the bathroom was and left. I ALMOST went over when he left but decided that IF I did anything, I wanted him to be there when I did it so he would KNOW that people are willing to stand up for him and not everyone is going to tear him down.

But I didn’t.

I let the ball of anger grow in my heart, this rage for this young boy who was being attacked within earshot of me by someone I assumed to be his caretaker (mother, aunt, whatever.. she was obviously close to him). I just sat there and eventually J gave me the keys to the van so I could leave and as I did, I overheard Hilda ask the boy to say “Girls.”

He said, “Goils.”

“Now, say it again but don’t move your tongue.”

“Goils.”

“There! I think it sounds better without you moving your tongue.”

Only there was no noted difference.

I muttered, loudly under my breath as I left, “What, are you some sort of SPEECH THERAPIST? JEEZ, lady!”

This evil woman. This sorry excuse for a human being is making this poor boy think that he is going to LOSE at life because of his speech impediment. She is setting him up for failure before he EVEN GETS STARTED AT LIFE IN THE BIG WORLD. I left without doing anything. I LEFT WITHOUT SHOWING HIM THAT PEOPLE WILL STAND UP FOR YOU.

I should have said something. I should have told him that as long as he is doing the best he can with what he has, that’s all anyone should ever expect of him. Of course we all want to strive to be better. As a mother with a daughter who has her own speech issues due to a cleft palate, I should have stood up and fought for him against this horrible monster. I have seen the strength it takes to pronounce a single sound when your mouth isn’t built quite right and know the complexities involved in forming what we take for granted in perfect pronunciations. So he has a lisp or an impediment. Big deal. He’s still an awesome kid and doing the BEST HE DAMN WELL CAN. Recognize that. Build THAT up. Don’t tear it down because that? That is not helping.

Don’t assume because someone talks differently that they are stupid. Don’t assume that they are idiots or that they can’t talk right simply because YOU cannot understand them. The issue there – with not understanding them – is YOURS, not theirs. FOR THEY ARE COMMUNICATING THE BEST THEY CAN WITH WHAT THEY HAVE. Are you listening the best you can with what you have? Are you merely listening to what they are saying or are you striving to actually HEAR what they have to say beyond what may originally sound like garble to you?

For the record, I understood EVERY single word this young man said and I wasn’t even sitting across the table from him as Hilda was doing. His speech impediment isn’t that bad in my opinion. But according to the way Hilda discussed it, you’d think it was some horrific “he will never be able to communicate with the world at large” issue. Only it is not that way at all.

In my humble opinion, Hilda is the one with the impediment because she fails to see the beautiful, driven, dedicated young man who is fighting with all his might to communicate with others. She fails to see that he is already miles ahead of her emotionally because instead of tearing her down in response, he simple defended himself.

I should have said something. So instead, because I didn’t stand up then, I am writing about it now. Maybe this is the coward’s way out. But I could be quiet here too – quiet on a platform I have at my fingertips. When someone else is being torn apart and there is something you can do, you shouldn’t just walk away. I failed. But I am writing this because I want to apologize for walking away and hopefully inspire someone else to NOT follow in my footsteps.

If we all stood up for those who are caught in the sights of a bully (like Hilda), the world would be a far more awesome place and maybe the bullies would think twice before attacking someone and tearing them down.