Category Archives: postpartum depression

Thoughts about Ebony

I was going to wait to publish this post until after I’d had time to read it through. But given that I just accidentally posted it, freaked out, made it private, I’m realizing that folks who got it through email will be able to read the entire thing anyway. SO. Here ya go. With a temporary title that obviously will be the permanent title – my ramblings and thoughts regarding Ebony Wilkerson, tragically better known as the mom in Daytona who drove  her minivan into the sea.

The public defender’s office said there was a reason she beat her stomach. “She {is} being held in seclusion naked in her cell,” said Craig Byer.

Public defender James Purdey at first asked for Monday’s hearing to get Wilkerson’s 1.2 million bond reduced.

Purdey instead asked his client be transferred from the Volusia County Branch Jail to a psychiatric ward for longer than a typical Baker Act hold, so she can get mental pre-natal care.

The judge did not rule on the request to move Wilkerson because the judge said it’s something that hasn’t been done before. (Source)

According to the Ebony Wilkerson narrative we have thus far, she drove to Central Florida from South Carolina to escape an abusive partner. Her family struggled to get her help but she signed herself out of the hospital and somehow managed to get the keys to the minivan and drive it and all of her children into the ocean despite the family’s efforts to hide the keys from her.

This week, we are told she has been held naked, in seclusion at the local jail and started punching her stomach, causing her defenders to push for her to be moved to a psychiatric ward for “mental pre-natal care.”

What the hell is wrong with this picture?

From an emotional and advocate standpoint, a lot.

From a logical standpoint, I can understand why these measures may need to be taken, particularly if Ebony has been suicidal. Of course you don’t want to give her anything that she could possibly harm herself with but there has to be a way to do that without completely stripping her down and removing all sense of dignity, something she was more than likely running low on if indeed she was escaping an abusive relationship.

The judge’s reluctance to move her may also be grounded in logic as well. Perhaps she did not feel she had enough facts to justify setting a precedence with Ebony’s case. Or perhaps the Volusia County Jail has the capability to be considered as “clinically appropriate” (as is required of examination/treatment in the Baker Act) and therefore the judge did not see moving her as a necessity. Or perhaps there simply wasn’t anywhere to move her to which offered the same level of security the judge felt Ebony requires at the moment.

But when examined from an emotional and advocate point of view, this is absolutely heartbreaking.

A pregnant mother, escaping an alleged abusive relationship, drives her kids into the ocean despite attempts to help her. To me, this screams of absolute desperation. This is beyond sanity. It’s more than a call for help. This type of behaviour requires action.

But is what Volusia County doing enough?

How do we best handle this type of situation in this day and age?

It’s like I tell my kids and my partner – we can’t fix a problem unless we know about it. Unfortunately, women (and men especially) who are in abusive relationships are often quiet about their situations until it’s almost too late, and some until it is too late. Why? Because they are often threatened by the perpetrator that if they don’t remain silent, there will be repercussions.

Silence is also a hallmark of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders for multiple reasons. Society believes we should be happy when pregnant or in the throes of new parenthood. Thing is, mood disorders have been happening since the dawn of time. Our responses to them over the centuries have varied but even early on, a few folks got it right. Take Asclepiades, for example. According to Thomas Millons Masters Of The Mind, he “argued against dark cells and dungeons for the mentally ill…thought patients should be in settings that were well lit and comfortable.” Asclepiades also proposed that “biological and chemically based treatment would be beneficial” in addition to dividing conditions into acute versus chronic and also distinguished between hallucinations, delusions, and illusions.

The main point of Asclepiades is that even in the early ages (171-110BC, by the way), someone recognized that locking away the mentally ill in dark, dank places was NOT the way to go.

Arataeus believed the “soul was the basis of psychic disturbances” and “mental disorders were exaggerated normal processes”. (Millon)

Then there’s Soranus who posited “consider(ing) culture as a factor in both investigating and treating mental patient.” (Millon, Masters Of The Mind). He also advocated for decent and kind treatment of the mentally ill, asking “his peers to remember who was ill; physicians should not view their patients as disagreeable persons who offended their self-image.” (Millon) It seems to this outside observer that Volusia County is not doing that in Ebony’s case.

Does being an abused woman or a woman at the hands of a Perinatal Mood Disorder excuse the type of behaviour Ebony Wilkerson has exhibited? No. But both are mitigating factors which led to her behaviour and should absolutely be taken into consideration as her case proceeds.

I’ve written extensively about Postpartum Depression as a defense. Cases like these are both fascinating and heartbreaking because all at once, those of us who have experienced a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder, see fractions of ourselves in the women who make headlines. We collectively gasp and think, my God, what if I had given into all those thoughts racing through my head? I could be her. I could be Ebony. I could be Miriam, I could be Andrea, I could be Otty.

We shudder because we were there, with them, in the dark, in the hell, holding their hands and they fell as we watch in horror. The way their fall is paraded in front of society scares the crap out of us and drives many to silence. Is this healthy for society? Yes and no. We should be outraged when children are subjected to death (or the threat thereof) at the hands of their parents. But at the same time, we need to take steps to prevent this type of situation from occurring in the first place.

How do we do that when every single case, every single situation from mother to mother and from birth to birth is different? How do we catch a falling mother if we don’t know she is falling?

Even if we start by putting measures in place to check for signs of falling, we will still fail if the mother doesn’t admit to having a problem or, as in Ebony’s case, refuses help (for whatever reasons – cultural stigma, fear, etc) which is offered to her because she is far past the breaking point and sees death as the only way out. Do we just throw our hands up in the air and let her do what she may? No. So what do we do then?

I don’t know.

What I do know is this:

  • Mothers (and fathers) do not deserve to be alone in this battle
  • Mothers (and fathers) deserve emotional support
  • Mothers and fathers need a village
  • Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders are not deserving of whispers, they require shouts
  • We need to speak up, every single time, not just when there is a crisis
  • Accept those who are hurting with open arms and provide a safe space for them to fall apart
  • Not judge those who have/are struggling so harshly

So what can we do to improve the situation for struggling parents across the globe with the very real (and often co-occurring) issue of domestic abuse/violence and Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders?

  • Make it okay to reach out for help and ditch the supermom/superwoman/superman/superdad façade
  • Initiate requirements for ALL health professionals who may come in contact with an expecting or new mother to be well-versed in the ins and outs of a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders (this includes pediatricians, OBGYN’s, GP’s, Family Doctors, IBCLC’s, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, you get my point…)
  • Create local, state, and national referral networks which incorporate above said training on a regular basis
  • Create networks of parents willing to mentor other parents through these tough situations and make it easy to access across the board

Are these solutions going to fix our current problem? No. But they’re a start and sadly, most of it revolves around a tradition which our current technologically advanced society has strayed greatly from – the tight knit expanded family. It takes a village to raise a child but it also takes a village to raise a mother to raise a child right. In my post “On Not Wanting To,” I state the following:

Our village is in peril. Our village? FELL THE FUCK APART AND NO ONE GIVES A DAMN.

In America, we have a pitiful excuse for maternity leave. We are bombarded by stories of celebs who gave birth and look AHMAZING in less than three weeks after giving birth. We are insanely comparing ourselves to women who are a) genetically blessed and b) have crazy access to things like trainers, nutritionists, nannies… and then there are the way we compare ourselves to each other. Stupid idiotic milestones of when we went back to work, how much we manage to get done every day, pushing ourselves to be better than the next mom and still have it all pulled together.

It’s no wonder we are screaming out for help and some of us are doing so through extreme measures.

Let’s keep the “if I were her, I would” out of the conversation. We do not know what she’s going through. Even if we’ve been through hell ourselves, we do not know *her* hell nor should we take her story as one which portends the downfall of ALL women who struggle with domestic violence/abuse and a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder. Instead, reach out to mothers, to fathers, let them know it is okay to reach out for help. For that matter, teach it to your kids so that when they get older they don’t feel as if reaching for help is in essence, failure to handle something on their own. Yes, independence is a grand thing but there is a time and a place to lean on someone else. Not to lean in, but to lean on, sometimes for dear life.

Our village has forgotten how to do this very simple yet necessary human act. We are now expected to be everything to everyone and dear GOD help us if we are not. Should we assume something is wrong with every mother? No. But instead of oohing and ahhing at her baby, ask how she’s doing. Ask how Dad is doing. Do not dismiss their very real role in their new situation. By acknowledging them, you acknowledge their existence and empower them to express their feelings. And that, my friends, is possibly one of the most powerful things we can ever do for a new parent.

Will it keep more pregnant women from being held in seclusion, naked in a prison cell, after they’ve attempted to kill their older children and themselves? Not all of them, no. But it’s a start.

An even better start would be to continue educating people about Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders, including those in the law enforcement and legal arena. I realize they are bound by the courts and must adhere to the law but if they had a better understanding of the facts behind Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders, perhaps, at least, the treatment of mothers imprisoned for crimes committed whilst experience these disorders would stand a chance of improving.

In the meantime, I genuinely hope that Ebony Wilkerson receives the help she so desperately needs as she awaits trial for her actions on the fateful day she drove her minivan into the sea. We’re watching, Volusia County. Don’t fail us more than you already have failed Ebony.

If Postpartum Mamas Banned Bossy

“Shhhhhhh. Don’t talk too loudly and don’t let anyone hear you.” the woman whispered as they chatted in the vestibule at church. Her companion had just expressed concern about a young new mother in the congregation who looked a bit exhausted that morning as she wrestled with her six week old and two year old toddler.

She patted her grey curls and adjusted her purse as she glanced around and leaned in to speak. “Don’t say anything but I heard from Ethel that she’s struggling with…” she lowered her voice to barely a whisper “that postpartum depression stuff.”

Her companion gasped and put her gloved hand over her mouth.

“No… not that. Why, in our day, we didn’t have that sort of thing. We just made do. These new age mamas and their excuses not to do the work mothering requires of them. Why it just makes me so angr…” Susan wagged her finger in front of her mouth as the bedraggled topic of their gossip approached.

“Well, hello there, Beth! Just how are things with you these days? And ohhhh… look at the new little one! Isn’t she just precious?” Beth sighed, glanced at the baby then back at Susan. She forced a smile and said “Just fine, come on, Ethan. Let’s go find Daddy.” As they started to walk off, Susan made a knowing eye contact with Joan, motioning after Beth, as if to say “I told you so.”

They stood there for a few more minutes, dissecting every aspect of Beth’s behaviour, dress, and choice of clothing for her children but not once did they discuss how they could help Beth as she learned how to navigate her way through this brand new motherhood of two children. Instead, they simply stood aghast and whispering at her apparent failure, ignoring all the signs that something was amiss.

Sadly, this still happens to many mothers. We are judged. Discussed. Analyzed. Dismissed. All because so many fail to discuss what is actually going on inside our heads. Because not enough of us get BOSSY about it.

What if, when Beth finally heals, she grabs the bull by the horns and starts a support group at her church? What if she dares to get up in front of the congregation and admits to her experience and educates those sitting there? What if she dares them to do more for new mothers and therefore changes the lives of new mothers touched by this church? But if we ban bossy, the Beths of the world won’t do this because well, they’ll be sitting down and not doing anything to blaze a path because SHHHHHHH. We dare not be bossy.

If I had not been bossy with my maternal medical care, things would have gone unnoticed. Hell, even though I was bossy the first time, I still went untreated because I was seen as “wrong” even though I knew myself better than anyone else. My “bossy” hormones should have slid magically back into place at four weeks postpartum so it wasn’t possible for me to have PPD. Shame on me for daring to say anything about not feeling well and daring to expect the doctor to actually, oh, I don’t know, DO SOMETHING. I slinked away, disappointed at not receiving help and resolving to stand up for myself down the road if necessary even if it hadn’t gotten me anywhere the first time around.

I got bossy the second time around too after my docs scheduled me for an induction WITHOUT MY CONSENT after noting that my first baby had been “big” at birth (she was 8lbs 3oz, thank you very much.)

What would happen to women, to all the progress we have made in the birthing world – hell, in the postpartum world, if we banned bossy?

There would be no Katherine Stone.

There would be no #PPDChat.

There would be no ample supply of kick ass doulas.

There wouldn’t be a chorus of PPD advocates or breastfeeding or formula feeding advocates. Or Attachment Parenting advocates. Or…. do I really need to go on?

What about NICU Parents? Where the hell would they AND THEIR CHILDREN be without the bossy trait?

Bossy is necessary.

Bossy saves lives.

Banning bossy is akin to telling someone to sit down, shut the eff up, and take whatever life shoves their way. Maybe that’s not what this campaign is about, maybe it’s about taking charge and finding a more positive way to spin it but dammit, no one gets to tell me what word to use to describe myself.

Words are powerful things. They incite strength, they spark revolutions, they can make us cower or they can give us power. But the beauty of words is that WE get to decide what they mean to us, not those who are spewing them at us. We define them. We can take them and twist them into the most beautiful and amazing things ever seen by mankind. It is up to us to choose how to process that which is spoken to us, about us, by us, and for us.

No one should ever put bossy in the corner.

No one.

Instead, we should grab it by the hand, drag it out to the dance floor, and flaunt that baby like there’s no tomorrow. Own it as if we are in the spotlight with Patrick Swayze himself, getting ready to dive off the stage into his arms.

The idea that we are to ban this word to encourage young girls not to be afraid of being “leaders” scares me.

Are we really empowering girls by doing so or are we further protecting them from the big bad world out there waiting to swallow them whole? Bossy gets you places. Bossy starts inside, it drives us forward, and it ENABLES us to be leaders. Not the other way around. If we ban bossy instead of embracing bossy, we are further shaming the word and the attitude. Hell, motherhood alone requires a certain level of bossy, does it not? As does fatherhood.

I am bossy.

I am not afraid to say no.

I am not afraid to stand up for my beliefs. I am not afraid to stand up for others and the rights they have. I am not afraid to tell someone “No, that’s not right. This is the truth, and you need to listen to it.” I am not afraid to protect and defend mothers who suffer from Perinatal Mood Disorders.

I will be bossy about Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders until the day I die.

No social media campaign (or anything else for that matter) will ever change that.

Let’s not ban bossy.

Let’s make some noise…and make some history while we’re at it.

Because “well-behaved women seldom make history” yanno.

Here’s to all of us bossy women – rocking the world, taking names, and kicking ass.

Stay bossy forever.

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?

#PPDChat Topic 03.10.2014: Media Sensationalism & PPD

ppdchat-03-10-14

 

Join me tonight as we explore the issue of media sensationalism and PPD. So often, as I stated in my post “On Not Wanting To”, when a mom hurts herself or her children, we get the sensationalized version of it and the details of her journey to that point (and her journey after the event) are dramatized as well. I hope you’ll join me for a passionate and insightful chat into why this needs to change as well as why we owe it to ourselves and to society to reach out to every new mother dyad with care, compassion, and understanding.

We cannot let the village continue to fail.

On Not Wanting To

I’m tired, y’all.

I’m so damn tired of reading about women splashed across the front page because they’ve done something horrible to themselves or their children.

I’m tired of immediately wondering who let her down. I’m tired of wondering at what point did she fall through the cracks. I’m fed up, to be honest.

It happens way too often, these worst case scenarios splayed across the front page for all to read and shake their heads in disgust or sigh in exasperation because yet another mom has lost her mind.

I’m tired of this bullshit.

I get that drama sells and when it comes to sales or clicks, it’s all about the what will draw people in so OF COURSE LET’S SHARE A STORY ABOUT A MOM WHO FAILED.

Where the hell are the stories about the doctors who failed to screen? Where the hell are the stories about the partners who told these new moms to just suck it up? Where are the stories about their loved ones who didn’t show up to help them when they cried out for help? WHERE THE HELL ARE THESE STORIES?

It takes a damn village, people.

Our village is in peril. Our village? FELL THE FUCK APART AND NO ONE GIVES A DAMN.

In America, we have a pitiful excuse for maternity leave. We are bombarded by stories of celebs who gave birth and look AHMAZING in less than three weeks after giving birth. We are insanely comparing ourselves to women who are a) genetically blessed and b) have crazy access to things like trainers, nutritionists, nannies… and then there are the way we compare ourselves to each other. Stupid idiotic milestones of when we went back to work, how much we manage to get done every day, pushing ourselves to be better than the next mom and still have it all pulled together.

It’s no wonder we are screaming out for help and some of us are doing so through extreme measures.

There was a push for screening but it’s buried in the ACA and we know how well that’s been going with implementation, right?

Then there’s the complication of who will screen. Maternal mental health care crosses so many specialties it’s not even funny. OBGYN, midwives, doulas, Pediatrician, General Practitioner, Lactation Consultants….so who screens? Does the OB? The midwife? The doula? The Pediatrician? The GP? The IBCLC? WHO? Once they screen, what happens? Is the woman informed of her results? Is she successfully referred to the proper care? Is that care knowledgeable about Perinatal Mood Disorders? Will they dismiss her as an exhausted mom instead?

What about the potential physical issues which can masquerade as PPD? Like anemia, thyroid issues, vitamin D deficiencies, etc? Will those be ruled out before she’s put on medication? Or is the doctor just going to toss a script at her and leave her all alone on her skiff in the middle of a hurricane at sea?

Where is this information in childbirth classes? Why are we not informing new moms about this? Why are we not telling them that it can happen, dear caregivers? WHERE ARE YOU? WHY ARE YOU FAILING US? WHY ARE YOU GLOSSING OVER THE DANGER???

Wake up.

Women are dying.

Children are dying.

Families are being destroyed.

And you, you are sitting there claiming “It’s not my place.”

But it is.

Your move.

Get it right.

Reblogged: Honesty Is The Best Policy

There are people on Twitter I seem to have “known” for quite awhile. As it often is with Twitter, I am never sure how we “met” but there are a few I feel a stronger connection to than others. We may not talk often, but they are the ones I check in with from time to time. This post is from one of those people and it’s a really insightful and honest post about Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.

All too often we do not reach out for help because of stigma or because we think this is just the way things are supposed to be. This time around, she’s doing it differently. Go show her some love as she steps out into her brave new world.

On Stealing Joy

(There is a brief, non-graphic reference to suicide in this post. If you are sensitive or thinking about suicide, please consider avoiding. Also, if you are considering suicide, know that there is help available, you are not alone. Call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to be connected to a crisis center near you or visit their website by clicking here. Please do not suffer in silence when help is just a click or a phone call away.)

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Peter Pan and the Lost Boys symbolize the importance of never completely growing up despite a society which constantly tells us and expects the opposite of us. There are dreamers among us who manage to hang on to the childlike wonder and awe of all that occurs within our paltry world. Then there are those who prefer we be nothing but straight laced, dry, and act our age, the haughty people who believe life is meant to be lived according to a rule book instead of according to our hearts and souls.

Dead Poets Society captures the very essence of this battle.

Robert Sean Leonard is brilliantly cast as Neil, an artistic soul desperately trapped in a straight-laced life by his father. In fact, the opening scenes foreshadow the weight Neil’s father holds over him when he is forced to quit the school annual after a discussion Neil’s father has with one of the headmasters. Neil quits the annual because as he puts it, “What choice do I have?”

Yet, after meeting Mr. Keating, who dares his classes to do more, to be more, and to ultimately walk to the beat of a different drummer, Neil finds his soul set ablaze. He spearheads the resuscitation of the Dead Poets Society meetings at Welton Academy. He takes his artistic defiance a step further when he auditions for a role in a local theatre’s production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. This time, instead of worrying about his father’s reaction, he pens a note of permission from his father on the typewriter in his room. Neil is growing, walking to the beat of a different drum, and daring to be his own man. He is embracing the spirit of carpe diem.

Why the change of heart? Is it really Mr. Keating or is it simply that Neil has given himself permission to be who he is finally because for the first time, he has been exposed to someone who says it okay to do so?

Neil’s father predictably discovers his son’s deception and calls him on it the day the play is set to open. His father attends the play, dragging him home afterward. There’s a discussion during which Neil is firmly told he will not be returning to Welton but will instead be attending a military academy. That’s all there is to it, he’s told. The family goes to bed, the father putting his things in their places before he lays down under the covers.

Then, the scene.

It’s a chillingly well done scene, actually, one which draws you into Neil’s mind and the process of suicide one goes through. Each movement, each act, very deliberate. It is this scene during which Neil lets go of his inner child forever, now that he sees only a future ahead of him filled with stuffed shirts, windows of opportunity and doors leading to open fields of passion slamming shut all around him. This life, the one without his inner child, it is not for him, and therefore, he must leave this world.

You see, when we take away the choices a person has, we take away their independence. We steal the very essence of their being, their joy. In a sense, we jack open their mouths and yank their inner child right out when we force someone to conform to a certain methodology of being. If we were all meant to be exactly alike, we would not have originated anywhere other than a factory. Instead, we sprout up all over the world in all sorts of environments, even the most impossible ones.

Our lives are meant to be lived despite our environments. We choose to thrive, we choose to fail. We choose to grow up or remain children. We choose joy, we choose sorrow. We choose to wallow and ruminate or do what we can and let go. Are these easy choices? Hell no. Are they possible choices? Hell yes.

Life is a choice. Thriving, a choice. Stretching yourself way beyond your comfort zone – a choice. Our overall path may not be a choice, but the steps we take along it are our choices to make. We can choose to trod along the muddy road or skip in the rain, stopping to jump in the puddles, giggling as we are covered head to toe in the slimy brown dirt.

What will you choose today? Will you choose to harrumph, put up your umbrella and frown angrily at the gathering clouds?

Or will you pull a Gene Kelly and go singing and dancing in the rain?

A Few Ramblings About Love

When I was younger I foolishly believed in fairy tales, in the happy every after. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, animals sing, dwarfs get all ga ga, and well, happily ever after, right? Wrong.

In between, there’s housework, there is the daily mundane, the impossibly difficult discussions, the little things, the actual WORK required to make the happily ever after happen. You know, stuff which doesn’t fit neatly into a Disney movie and is over-dramatized in their sitcoms accented with a cheesy laugh reel.

Life isn’t some sitcom. It’s not a Disney fairy tale either. It is somewhere in between, it is not easy, and it requires work. Most of all, it requires intimacy, patience, trust, and the willingness to talk the hard stuff through without jumping to conclusions. It means listening instead of deciding what you’re going to say next. A partnership, a marriage.. it’s not about the day you say “I do”…it’s about all the days after.

The next time you see a couple who appears to have it all together, remind yourself you are only seeing a slice of their life. Do not compare yourself or your relationship to what they have. I used this example a few weeks ago – the story of the ugly duckling – he started out completely different from his siblings but ended up being the most beautiful and graceful creature of them all. It is also a perfect analogy for relationships. In my experience, people who have been through a lot together (and survived) have the strongest relationships.

Over the past few years through my work as a peer support advocate for women and families struggling with Perinatal Mood Disorders, I have had the deep honor of getting to peek behind the curtain of some of the most amazing people I have ever “met”. I say “met” with quotations because most of them I have only had the pleasure of talking to on through a digital medium.

This work, this advocacy, has not only allowed me to enable others to move forward with their lives through the boulder of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders but it has also taught me quite a bit about love and relationships. You see, when you are supporting a family through a PMAD episode, you have to be aware of everything going on in their life because every little thing matters. Is she getting enough support at home? Is he sleeping okay? Does he have support too? How’s work going? Are the in-laws a source of stress? Are they communicating? Are they sharing the care responsibilities? Are they taking time for each other as a couple? There are a lot of little nuances which can add up to an explanation of why she’s had a bad week or why he seems a little snippy. These are the things which must be teased out to empower a couple to communicate and move past the potholes before they become sinkholes.

In no particular order, the following are things I believe empower a strong and successful relationship. They are things I strive to do in my current relationship and don’t ever intend to stop doing:

1) Listen. I don’t mean nod your head and “uh huh” at every little thing your partner says. No. I mean actually listen. Follow the conversation, ask questions, repeat things back. Validate their feelings, their concerns, make them heard. You would expect the same from them, yes? Everyone wants to be heard, deserves to be heard and this is particularly true with your partner.

2) Check in with your partner on a daily basis. Sure, ask them how their day went but dive deeper and ask pertinent questions beyond the surface. Get them talking abut their interests or offer to listen as they vent a problem they’re having at work.

3) Hold hands just because. Holding hands has got to be one of the most intimate things you can do with a person. I’m serious! It’s a quiet yet sweet way to let them know you care and you want to be near them. I adore holding hands and it means the world to me to be able to just sit and hold hands as we watch TV.

4) Discuss serious issues like adults. I don’t mean rage at each other, yelling and screaming. I mean sit down, and in a calm, rational voice, state your side of the situation, and then listen to your partner state his side of the decision. Sometimes you may need to wait until you both calm down. Work together instead of against each other to solve problems. You are both on the same team, here. I realize this is easier said than done but when both of you are capable of this it truly is a beautiful thing, trust me. (this is where checking in with each other comes in handy because there are less likely to be blow ups if you are actually communicating to begin with!)

5) Go on a date with each other. It doesn’t have to be ritzy, heck, it doesn’t even have to qualify as a “date”. Just spending time alone, the two of you, is great. You may have kids now but that doesn’t mean you are *just* a mom & dad. You are still the people you were when you fell in love. Nurture that, celebrate it, and don’t ever lose sight of yourselves as a happy, giddy couple madly in love with each other.

6) Surprise each other with little romantic gestures. These things are cheesy but they work. Texts, notes in work bags, mailed cards. I had to travel last summer and I left a well-planned scavenger hunt for my boyfriend at our condo while I was gone. All the clues were in a coupon holder with the dates written on the outside of the envelope. I had a blast planning it and he enjoyed all the little mementos. It really is the little things which matter in the long run.

7) Laugh together, often. Laughter really is the best medicine and if you can’t be utterly ridiculous with the one you’re with? Then you’re in trouble. It’s good for the heart, the soul, the abs, and your relationship.

8) Try new things together. Chances are you’ll both be nervous but it’ll be a bonding experience and hopefully one you’ll never forget. Just make sure you wear all the proper safety gear if you decide to leap out of a plane.

9) Give each other your own space. Know who you are and respect the person your partner is by allowing him/her to indulge in his/her interests without guilt. There is the potential for abuse of this (ie, someone hogging all the alone time and not allowing their partner to have their fair share). Love should never demand someone change their interests or who they really are just to be accepted. Love is about finding someone who is amazing and accepting them for WHO THEY ARE right then and there, not the person you plan on molding them to be.

10) Love with wild abandon. There’s no other way to love the person you are with than deeply. Love so hard your heart hurts and aches and you can’t wait to jump into their arms when they get home from work. Fall in love with them all over again every day for no reason at all than the fact that they love you right back.

Am I saying that if you do all of these things you’ll have the perfect relationship? No. Because not all of us are built the same and some of us need different things from a relationship. But for me? This is it. This is my list. Some of it may work for you, the whole thing possibly.

Underlying all of this, however, is the definitive need to communicate because without communicating, you may as well build a house without a foundation in the Everglades and just wait for the whole thing to sink beneath the swamp. And that’s not getting you anywhere but in a gator’s belly.

Changing Your Stars

I am watching A Knight’s Tale, one of many movies I could watch several times over. As I start to write, this scene is in the background:

“He’s a real Knight, William. Watch him and learn all that you can. Now go, and change your stars!”

“But father, I’m afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Afraid I won’t be able to find my way home.”

“Don’t be afraid William, you’ll just follow your feet.”

Life is full of changes and situations which evoke fear in our hearts. “Courage is being scared but saddling up anyway,” according to John Wayne. It is knowing not knowing what is around the bend but peeking just beyond despite this unknown, is it not?

For me, that bend was motherhood, and waiting around that bend was one an awful monster I had no desire to meet. But we came face to face anyway, the monster and I, not too long after my first daughter graced my arms. The monster, he breathed heavily in my face, the moisture from his open, drooling mouth specking my face as if it were drizzling. He growled at me as he snatched me, taking me back to his lair just beyond the edge of town.

This monster, he shoved me down a hole in the floor of his shack, a hole so deep there was no light. I crawled into a corner and wailed helplessly until I fell asleep. This monster, he fed me, when he could, but left me there to wallow and ruminate, lost forever from the world, away from my child, my partner, everything. Until one day, a hand reached into the hole and helped me out. The light, it burned. The leaves were greener than I remembered, the dew sparkled on them as the sunlight bounced off the fresh rain collected just on the surfaces of the just born foliage.

The face of my rescuer blurred into many faces for it was not just one person, it was many, working together, which brought me back to the land of the living. One of those faces was my own for I had to fight to accept the help I so desperately needed to escape from the deep dark hole under the monster’s house.

As I left the monsters house, I of course, had to follow my feet home. For me, they led me to a new place in life, some of it familiar, some of it brand new. But alas, it was the home where my heart belonged.

In A Knight’s Tale, as Oreck travels to Cheapside, he encounters a little girl to find out where his father lives. She tells him, and he discovers his father is now blind, unable to see. So he goes up to see him, telling him that he is well without identifying himself, and that he has indeed managed to change his stars. Then there is this exchange:

“Has he followed his feet? Has he found his way home at last?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, Oh William! Oh my boy!”

Then, they sit, they talk, they eat, they laugh as if time has never passed. This is how it should be when a prodigal son returns. A celebration of return to self, or return to an improved self, rather.

Then the story goes dour again as the Adhemar, the knight opposing Oreck (William), exposes him as not being of noble birth. This is much like a relapse, as if the monster had hunted us down again and shoved us back in the hole.

But this time, this time he has people willing to fight with him, beside him, and most importantly, someone willing to truly change his stars. This is what I wish for all of us fighting a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder – a warrior willing to tilt full speed ahead with a lance against anything and anyone daring to rip us off our horses as we heal. This is what I work to be for all women who contact me – a fighting spirit who will not only go to bat for them but will do whatever I can to instill the same spirit within themselves.

Prince Edward then dubs Oreck, now William Thatcher, as a knight, asking him if he is fit to compete. He is, of course, and he wins against his enemy, the villainous Adhemar.

This is what those of us who fight against a mental illness want – we not only want to win our battles, but we want to be acknowledged as someone who matters. We are human, longing to be counted among those who surround us.

Every day may be a battle, every day may be exhausting, but we get up the next day, and do it all over again, hoping that today, just maybe, we will change our stars a little bit more than the day before, inching ever so much closer to the person we long to be deep inside our hearts.

Go. Change your stars. Don’t be found weighed, measured, and found wanting. Push yourself toward constantly changing your stars for the better. Defeat your monster, make him look up at you from the flat of his back after you have knocked him off his horse.

If you don’t need to change your stars, help someone else change theirs.

To you, it might just be a random act of kindness. To them? It might just change their entire life.