Tag Archives: advocacy

To Empower without Condescension

There is a habit I have witnessed within a multitude of places in the perinatal support realm. It is the habit of treating women who are struggling as if they were instead their infants. The habit of “Oh, she’s not well enough to do this yet, tell her to do x,y, or z instead” or “What is she THINKING” when a mother attempts to regain her foothold in the world at large as a normal human being.

It disgusts me.

Mothers with mental health issues are still adults.

They have a sense of self, intelligence, a sense of the way life is meant to be lived, and they know how to do what needs to be done. Right now, however, they may need a little bit of support. That does not mean, however, that we lay them down, swaddle them, stick a pacifier in their mouths, and treat them as if they are infants who need every thing done for them.

Why on earth is it that we do this to those who are suffering and struggling?

Their very fight is one dedicated to returning to the person they once were and want to be again. When you treat them as an infant, you decry their struggle. You strip the person they once were completely out of the equation, turning it into a pointless battle. In fact, when you treat them this way, you are doing more harm than good.

I would not want to be demeaned when I reached out for support – would you?

When a mother reaches out for help, she has managed to gather enough courage to say “I can’t do this on my own.” Respect her strength and audacity.

When a mother reaches out for help, she expects to be heard. Hear her voice, her adult voice, and respond in kind.

When a mother reaches out for help, she expects to be met with compassion and respect. Do that. Do not belittle her behaviour or her requests. Guide her, refer her, but dear God, do NOT tear her down any more than she has already been torn down.

One of my primary goals when women reach out to me for support is to respect them as adults, as humans, as independent women who are temporarily scared shitless by the dark hole surrounding them. They do not need me to baby them any more than a soldier needs to be babied after being injured during war. They don’t need me yelling at them either, but you get what I mean.

Strike a balance. Be compassionate, respectful, firm, and guiding, but do NOT demean, belittle, or treat a woman as incapable of participating in her own recovery. The second you deem a woman as incapable of participating in her own recovery, you have opened the door to defeat.

If we expect to help others recover, we must empower them without condescension. If we cannot do this, we absolutely should not be in the field of helping others because we are only harming.

Hear, respect, respond, guide, empower, let go.

These are the basic rules by which I operate. Simple. Straightforward. Rooted in compassion.

The next time someone reaches out to you with a mental health issue -postpartum or not- keep these words in mind. You might be surprised at how far it will get you – and how many lives it will save.

Thoughts on Miriam in DC

On October 3, 2013, Miriam Carey tragically lost her life Washington, DC. She was supposed to be in Connecticut, taking her daughter to a doctor’s appointment according to the myriad of articles I have read this morning.

They all seem to have the similar tone to them, these articles. That a woman tragically lost her life because she had Postpartum Depression.

Yet, medication recovered at her Stamford, CT, apartment would indicate that what was going on with Miriam went much deeper than Postpartum Depression.

A woman with Postpartum Depression does not simply break with reality and drive hundreds of miles out of her way to drive into barriers, lead police on a chase, and somehow end up dead, all with her infant daughter in the back seat.

The behaviour of Miriam Carey lends itself to the behaviour of a mother struggling with Postpartum Psychosis, the facts of which can be found at this page on Postpartum Support International’s site. According to this page, symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis can include:

  • Delusions or strange beliefs
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • Feeling very irritated
  • Hyperactivity
  • Decreased need for or inability to sleep
  • Paranoia and suspiciousness
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Difficulty communicating at times

There are a number of symptoms on that list I have seen discussed this morning. Some of them match up with PPP.

The other things I have seen discussed this morning are heartbreaking. Folks judging Miriam for her actions. Saying she’s a monster. Wondering how she could possibly have driven her vehicle into the barriers and toward a hail of police bullets with her daughter in the back seat.

I have also seen some honest discussion about what it means to struggle with a mood disorder after the birth of a child and how it hurts whenever something like this happens. I feel as if I have been punched in the gut, to be honest. I want to fall to my knees and weep for what happened to Miriam. But instead, I am writing and I am reaching out to those in the community I founded to support women and families struggling with mood disorders after the birth of a child.

Why?

Because this kind of support, on a human level, helps quell the storm. It lets others know they are not alone and there is hope. We help each other find the way in the dark, particularly when a storm like this tragedy looms on our shores. You see, at one time or another, we have all been Miriam. We have had those thoughts, the scary ones about driving our cars into solid objects, about letting go, about just giving up and moving on toward that great white light. Some of us have almost touched that white light. WE KNOW the darkness which drove Miriam to Washington, D.C. intimately. We have sat with it on our shoulders, in our hearts, and felt it try to gain control of our heads. We, however, are the lucky ones because we are still here, fighting.

When the women of the Postpartum Support Community band together, it is a beautiful thing. We are some of the strongest women in the world and we refuse to stand down. In the spirit of standing strong, I will be participating in a Blog Carnival “For Miriam” on World Mental Health Day on October 10th. If you would like to join us, you can find more information here on the FB page.

For now, know that you are not alone, it is absolutely okay to reach out for help, and you are loved.

If you or a loved one are currently struggling with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder, reach out to Postpartum Support International at their website or find me on Twitter @unxpctdblessing. There is also 24/7 support available via the hashtag #PPDChat and we have a closed FB group as well. You are never alone.

The Challenge of Moderating A Mental Health Peer Support Community

The world of advocating and supporting those fighting the hard fight against Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders holds within it a myriad of challenges. Moderating a community requires a lot – patience, compassion, understanding, and knowing when to properly apply tough love. The last one gets me every time -it is definitely a challenge and very heart-breaking to apply tough love to a struggling mama- but it is sometimes the only option left.

Within the #PPDChat community, some moms may end up being friends, others may just need me for a short period of time on their journey. I have to be okay with either, learning to let go as the moms who contact me move in a very fluid way in and out of my world.

My primary goal, however, is to keep everyone within the community safe above all else. To ensure that they feel respected, empowered, validated, and treated with all the dignity each of us deserves as humans and as adults, something all of us deserve. When someone within the community fails to meet this goal or feels these goals are not being met, I take action.

When there is a threat/disrespect for the community, a member requires more help than I or other members can provide, or threatens the safety of those close to them, I reach out for additional support. Dealing with threats to themselves or to the safety of the group is not a pleasant situation but it is something which is bound to crop up every so often. I must be prepared to provide solace for all involved – the community at large and the struggling member, without divulging too much information regarding either. Even though I am not legally bound by the classic “client/therapist” privilege rule, I hold myself to it unless threats are made. Even then, I only release information to the necessary parties.

Moderating #PPDChat has taught me a few lessons about dealing with people in general:

1) Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. This one is tough because sometimes, when I would like to be angry at someone, I see their pain. I see the suffering which is causing their anger. I have learned when to dive in and hold a conversation but at the same time I have also learned when to walk away and let them fight their own battles with their dark storms. Sometimes, and this is perhaps the toughest lesson of all, people need to fight the storm on their own and we have to walk away because they are simply not prepared to let others put on their battle armor with them. I have found that if I need to do this, the best way to do so is to leave the door open as I walk out, in case they are ready to have an army by their side.

2) Be kind to yourself, for the battles you face may be harder than you think they are and it’s okay to not be okay. We all do it, tell ourselves that what we’re going through isn’t as hellacious as it should be – a lie. It’s okay to fight, it’s okay to hurt, and it’s okay to be kind to yourself. I say this often: Self-care is not selfish, it’s selfless. There is a fine line between self-care and selfish, however – it’s importance to balance taking care of your responsibilities with taking care of yourself. In the same vein, it’s okay to say no to extras. Things which are responsibilities take priority over things which are “supplemental” to life. To figure out the difference, make a list and ask yourself if life will go on if you skip something. Meal prep is a responsibility. Gotta eat. Making a ton of cookies for the church social? Yeah, saying yes might put you in the good graces but if it’s at the sacrifice of your sanity, it might not be worth it. Instead, choose to spend that time with your family or with yourself.

3) Everyone won’t be happy with the rules…or with what other people in the group have to say about certain topics. We all come to motherhood with different expectations and beliefs about how things should go. We all walk different paths and need to find the right path for us – in the process, remember that the right path for US may not be the right path for those around us. Judging the choices of others is something I DO NOT tolerate in the #PPDChat community because we are already judging ourselves as women, as mothers, and as mothers fighting a mental health battle. The LAST thing we need to add to that full plate is our support community judging us too. When personal attacks happen, tough love knocks down the door dressed up as a Mama Bear.

4) Treating others with dignity goes a long way. We’re dealing with other adults here, not with children. I don’t even see Teen Moms as children. They are mothers now, with very real adult responsibilities. To treat them, or any new mother, as anything less than an adult with responsibilities, is to disrespect them. You’re not helping if you’re constantly holding someone’s hand and telling them what they can or cannot do. It’s not empowering to talk down to them. Mental health struggles do NOT equal incapable. I was an adult prior to my postpartum issues and I was still an adult when I was fighting the beast. I treat others with the same respect and dignity with which I would want to be treated in the midst of my own storm. I believe it lends to confirming to the woman/family seeking help that they ARE still human, they DO matter, and it provides a sense of normalcy, if you will. It’s possible to acknowledge struggles without demeaning or patronizing the person experiencing them.

5) Authenticity is important. Sharing parts of yourself as a peer moderator builds trust. It shows your community that you are indeed human and understand their pain. Particularly online, it is important to not just be a robot spouting self-care-isms, if you will. Mean what you say and say what you mean. My community is perfectly aware of my rather unhealthy obsessions with bacon, football, F1, Star Wars, and a myriad of other things. Why? It humanizes me and therefore humanizes the community as we are able to bond with each other over a myriad of topics. It allows us to talk about things beyond our “labels.”

6) Know when to be light-hearted and when to be serious. There is a fine line between these two approaches, particularly when dealing with mental health issues. Cross the light-hearted line a bit too much and you may end up in the stigma/discrimination zone. That’s never a good thing. We joke a bit more about it in closed group but I am always, always careful about how I phrase things because I absolutely do not put up with any form of discrimination within the community. I see everyone one equal footing – as people fighting like hell to just be themselves, whatever that may be now. We need laughter but we also need respect and tough love. Toeing the line requires finesse, something I work diligently at achieving.

I’m sure there are more lessons I have learned whilst moderating the #PPDChat Community but the six above are perhaps the most important ones.

It is my utmost desire that everyone who reaches out to #PPDChat for support find a community which respects them as a whole person, respects their individual choices regarding child-bearing and child-rearing, and empowers them as they fight with all their might on their journey toward being well once again.

I know people feel that way because I hear it every so often from those who have participated. In fact, just the other day @jenrenpody shared this with me:

“I turned to ppdchat because I felt safe, validated and heard. I needed that validation and support. I found so much more – community and friendships.”

#PPDChat works to do exactly what Jen states and it always will. If for some reason, you have a different experience, let me know and I will do my best to address the issue. You are absolutely not alone, you will be heard, and you are safe. Always.

What would be most important to you in a peer-based community support group and why? Has #PPDChat helped you feel empowered to fight your battle against Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders? Join in the discussion by sharing below!

#PPDChat Topic: Like A Butterfly: Transformational Power of a Perinatal Mood Disorder

ppdchat 09-30-13

Today, we’re focusing on the ways Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders change us. Many of us know all too well the amount of energy it takes to fight through to ourselves during a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder. As someone who is now able to look back at my experiences instead of being caught in the midst of it, I see how that fight changed my outlook on life as well as changed almost everything inside me. While I have been remodeled, some of the old me remains. Isn’t this the way with all trauma and substantial life experiences? We are constantly growing and changing as life ebbs and flows through us, are we not?

The 1:00pm ET chat will be a prelude to tonight’s chat with @WalkerKarraa regarding the amazing transformational power Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders have in the lives of the women who experience them. I hope you’ll join us as we casually explore and discuss the ways PMAD’s have changed our lives during the afternoon chat.

Then at 8:30pm ET, Dr. Walker Karraa will join us. I am excited about her joining #PPDChat as a guest, particularly on this topic as she has been talking to several women about this very thing, allowing her amazing insight into the overall transformational power of PMAD’s in our lives.

To say I am excited about today’s topic would be a huge understatement. I cannot wait to discuss this with y’all!!! For more information about Walker and today’s topic, go here.

See you at 1:00pm ET and hope you will join us at 8:30pm ET as well!

Celebrating Through Giving Back – Today’s Spotlight – @PostpartumHelp (PSI)

Shortly after I decided that I needed to reach out to other mothers as an advocate, I found Postpartum Support International. I ordered the manual Jane Honikman had available through the site about how to organize. She was an angel and shipped it to me before receiving the check for it from my mother (we were struggling at the time and it was a gift my mother decided to provide to me – bless her).

Shortly thereafter, while forming my own in person support group, I also became a Co-Coordinator for the state of Georgia. One of my first calls landed me on the phone with Jane because it was such a doozy and I had no idea what I needed to do – I handled it wonderfully with her support. Jane is warm, caring, and makes you feel at ease instantly. When I had the chance to meet her in 2010, it was all I could do not to cry – you PSI Coordinators know what I’m talking about. Because of this fabulous woman who has walked in our shoes, has hurt, and has decided that NO ONE ELSE SHOULD HURT ALONE, is why PSI exists today.

Without early support from PSI, from Jane, Wendy Davis, and other coordinators who at this point are far too numerous to name (waves at Heidi Koss and Diane Ashton, two very early allies), I would never have started down the road to advocacy. They nurtured an early advocate and provided sage advice along the way.

PSI operates a very large net of volunteer Coordinators, all of who go above and beyond to help the families reaching out to them. The world is a phenomenally better place because of these men & women manning the front lines.

I always refer to PSI for information and support. Go check out their website for information, to locate a volunteer near you, to volunteer, or even to donate to support what they’re doing to help families.

Thank you, Jane, Wendy, and all the past and future Presidents of PSI. Because of you, lives are saved and will continue to be saved. Don’t stop fighting the good fight. We are not alone because you have lit the path for so many and it will never stop shining.

 

Celebrating Through Giving Back – Today’s spotlight: @postpartumprog

HI!

Today’s the day, my birthday.

I’m highlighting Postpartum Progress today. But I thought that was just a blog, you’re thinking. Nope. The awesome Katherine Stone has turned her work into a non-profit which is making a lot of waves right now. It’s been inspiring to see how much they’ve managed to do so far with the base Katherine developed through her blog. I know they’re gonna go places and make a helluva difference in the world.

I LOVE the description of who they are:

We are catalysts. We are champions. We are instigators. We want change as soon as possible and we’re going to make it happen.”

Go over to the non-profit site here. Check out what they’ve been up to and possibly donate or even volunteer. She’s building an army of Warrior Moms. Go be one.

Keep up the fabulous work, Katherine. Proud to know you, and blessed to be one of those in the trenches with you as we fight against the stigma and misunderstanding of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. Keep rocking, lady.

#PPDChat Topic: Nitty Gritty – Ins and Outs of Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders

ppdchat-091012

Join us today on Twitter as we get nitty and gritty with the signs & symptoms of Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders. Have questions about just what goes on inside a PMAD? Catch up with us at 1pm ET and 830pm ET on Twitter using the hashtag #PPDChat. See you then!

Celebrating Through Giving Back – Today: Tree of Hope Foundation

Hi, y’all!!!

This week includes my birthday. I want to spend the week highlighting non-profits who are doing a heck of a job to support families struggling with Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders.

Today, I’m highlighting the Tree of Hope Foundation. I met Pamela Moffit in 2010 during a Postpartum Support International Conference. We hit it off fabulously. She’s full of life but very, very dedicated and passionate to ensuring women do not face the same fate as her sister-in-law and niece, Mary and Caroline. In 2004, Mary ended her life and her 5 week old daughter’s life as well. It was this tragedy that provided the seed for the Tree of Hope to bloom. (You can read an article about this here)

Pamela works tirelessly to save just one person, a personal goal I also share with my work, a goal all of us who work with those who fight have – just one person. Then once we’ve done that, we go back to that very same goal. It’s a simple goal but it’s more than we were doing before and it makes a difference.

Right now, the Tree of Hope is doing a LOT of fundraising. In honour of my birthday, I’d ask that you go visit their site, nose around, get to know what this awesome non-profit is up to, and maybe even donate if you can afford to do so. If you’re in metro-Detroit, you can also volunteer. Raising our voices decimates stigma but funding organizations who are in the trenches makes a REAL difference in REAL lives.

Thank you, Pamela, and Tree of Hope, for rocking it in Michigan and making a difference in your surrounding community. Keep up the amazing work, one woman at a time.

ATTENTION: The annual fundraiser is just around the corner on the 11th of October. If you’re in the area, GO! You can register here.

There is hope

In a lot of ways, telling the world about your battle with postpartum depression and anxiety or other forms of mental illness is what I’d imagine coming out feels like.

Raw.

Terrifying.

Liberating.

Being honest with the people closest to you (and not so close to you) about who you are on the inside and what you’re thinking?

Takes fortitude. Of the testicular variety.

May, as Katie pointed out, is Mental Health Awareness Month, and May 18th was designated as the day to blog for mental health. While the rally at my blog may be over and the month may be drawing to a close, the mission won’t be complete until the stigma is gone.

I’m humbled to be fighting this fight and championing this cause alongside some of the most courageous women (and the occasional man, too) I’ve had the pleasure of “meeting.”

I know that our work to end the stigma surrounding mental illness is likely an uphill battle. I know that we live in a world where people are quick to judge and slow to accept. I know.

And yet?

I believe in the power of people working together to make things happen. To make CHANGE happen.

I believe, as Mark Twain once said, that “the universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession.”

That brotherhood, or sisterhood, or humankind-hood, is powerful. It is strong. It is brave. It is hope.

It matters.

You matter.

We are here for you.

If you’re reading this and you find yourself hurting and unsure of what the next step is, reach out. Reach out to your spouse or sibling or parent or friend. Reach out to an e-stranger friend who will listen.

There is hope.

There is always hope.

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.”

–Emily Dickinson