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Just Talking Tuesday: How did Postpartum change your view of Mental Illness?

To be honest, before Postpartum crashed into my life, I had no clue what a real person with mental illness was like.

I watched Girl, Interrupted in college. I took a Psych 101 course to meet requirements for my undergrad degree. I knew the terminology. I had seen movies.

To my knowledge, I had never known someone while they were depressed. No one had ever talked to me about the possibility of mental illness in the family.

I went through a lot of grief as I grew up. I knew pain. I knew heartache. But I had not equated myself with someone who was depressed at any time. I had no idea what depression looked like on me because no one had ever talked about the possibility of it happening to me.

And then I got pregnant. I had a daughter. I became trapped in hell. Furious thoughts darted through my head. I couldn’t keep anxiety out of my life. I closed all the shades in our home. I refused to leave the house unless I had to do so. I felt our neighbors judging me. I felt the people in the grocery store judging me. But no, I wasn’t crazy. Not me. Crazy was for everyone else. Not me.

But maybe.

The maybe is what got me to the doctor’s office. The doctor who told me I didn’t have Postpartum but agreed to set me up with the in-house therapist anyway. The therapist who kept rescheduling. Then I cancelled.

Then we moved. I relied on myself. On the internet. I thought I healed. We got pregnant. Had another daughter. She was born with a cleft palate and needed to go to the NICU immediately. I totally lost myself that day. I continued to slip further until Day 56 when I was hospitalized for a nearly psychotic reaction to medication. It was in the hospital that I realized Mental Illness is NOTHING like what the movies showed us. Nothing like what mainstream media shows us. Nothing.

People with mental illness? Are PEOPLE, people. Humans. Like you and me.

What scares us about mental illness, I think, is that it shows us that any one of us is vulnerable. Our mind, the one thing over which you think you have control, is compromised in mental illness. But therein lies the issue. Those who have struggled with mental illness – whether themselves or alongside loved ones, know there is no snapping out of it. Those who have not are convinced that those who have mental illness are just acting. That we can turn it off at our every whim. Thing is? Most of us would love nothing more than to do that very thing. But we can’t. It takes time to heal. Even then, there are mental illnesses which persist a lifetime. Mental illnesses which are severe and debilitating. Mental health treatment and therapy has made some progress. But in the same vein, the stigma existing within American culture is deeply ingrained despite an increase in education efforts by mental health advocates.

What has to happen before we accept the mentally ill as part of our society? Before we jump to conclusions and rush to stigmatize the experience and diagnosis of others?

Just today, I read a story over at Strollerderby about the tragedy in Arizona. Do you want to know what they used as a picture? A straight jacket. Yes. A straight jacket. I tweeted the following in response to their tweet about the story: “Shame on @strollerderby for their story about Jared Lee Loughner. SHAME. A straight jacket as the photo? Really? #STIGMA” I never received a response. In going to get the link for the story, I noticed the photo has since been changed. The tweet was never retweeted. No other tweets were directed at them about the story under a search for @strollerderby. I’m grateful they have changed the photo.Thank you.

One of the biggest reasons I speak up about my experience with Postpartum Depression and OCD (and honestly, probably PTSD after my daughter’s NICU stay) is because when I was at the hospital, a Psych Nurse told me I did not have to tell anyone where I had been that weekend. Even then, in darkest of places, I knew it was not right to hide my experience. Even then, as a struggling new mom with a special needs child, I knew I had to find support. Staying silent would get me nowhere fast.

I raised my voice. I was open. Honest. Brutal. Raw. Insistent. Firm. Empowered.

Almost five years after my second daughter’s birth finds me here today. Blogging. Hosting #PPDChat. Freely supporting other mothers who have also chosen to speak up about their experiences. Encouraging new mothers to speak up about their experiences as well.

Mental illness changed my life.

It changed the lives of those around me as my advocacy empowered me to educate them about my experience and the experience of others.

Mental illness may well have saved my marriage as my own struggles with mental illness enabled me to better cope with my own husband’s depression and subsequent admission to addiction.

For me, mental illness was not a negative experience.

When I gave birth to my daughters, I also gave birth to a mental health advocate. It just took me some time to find her.

How did Postpartum change your perception of mental illness? Did it change the lives of those around you? Have you changed the lives of others as a result of your Postpartum? Let’s get to Just Talking.

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