Tag Archives: hope

Who’s that girl?

“When you see her, say a prayer and kiss your heart goodbye
She’s trouble, in a word get closer to the fire
Run faster, her laughter burns you up inside
You’re spinning round and round
You can’t get up, you try but you can’t”

 -lyrics, Who’s that Girl, Madonna-

Innocent enough lyrics, right? Of course, given that they’re Madonna lyrics that’s an arguable statement. Yet these lyrics are so very applicable to Postpartum Mood Disorders.

As a mother with Postpartum Mood Disorder, we drag ourselves out of bed in the morning after a lengthy internal argument between “have to, able to, and want to.” We stumble into the bathroom where we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror. Raw. Unkempt. Barely awake. Depressed. Anxious. Angry. Petrified. Unrecognizable. So we hide her. We hide the girl in the mirror behind make-up. Behind a forced smile. We tuck her away in the corners of our mind and pretend to be okay for everyone else.

It works for awhile.

But then the mask begins to crack. Chips fall to the floor. We can’t replace them. The cost is too great. Exhaustion sets in, keeping us from fixing the veneer we have worked so very hard to replace. Our hearts and broken minds spill out into public view. We crumble as the pain of exposure overwhelms us. Frozen with fear we become deer trapped on a country road as vehicles race past us.

Until finally someone stops, gets out, and approaches us with compassion. They hold us and walk us back to ourselves, allowing us to lean on them along the way. As we awake each morning thereafter, the girl in the mirror begins to look a bit more like us. Sure, we still have our raw, unkempt, angry, sad, depressed, exhausted days. But in between those days, we cautiously regain our glow. Our eyes once again transform into a beautiful stained glass window to our soul instead of the broken window to the dark soul of the depression or anxiety which has gripped us for so very long.

But the window to depression or anxiety which exists in our eyes, jutting deep into our souls, will never fully close. It stays open, even if just a centimeter. Each time we falter, fail to live up to our own impossible standards, our mind will scurry to that window to measure the opening, to see if it’s widened. We will check and re-check, not believing original measurements equal to the original. Eventually we walk away somewhat satisfied but never fully believing we are recovered.

Depression and mental illness thrive on doubt. They thrive on suppression, stigma, and questioning of our own abilities whether from others or the internal struggle for sense of self. Even without mental illness, we question ourselves our entire life. Grab onto the positive. Grasp tightly onto balloons of hope when they float by. Marvel at the flame of a beautiful candle when it shines light onto your path. Find your light where you can, when it is offered, and let it flood your world. Don’t hide it behind the darkness in the soul of your depression.

Let go. Allow the light flood into your world until you recognize the girl in the mirror again as beautiful. It’s not that she disappeared. It’s that your perception of her was stolen by Depression, a sly thief. Steal her back.

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

Postpartum Voice of the Week: 02.03.11: Searching for Hope

The following piece is an original story which was submitted for consideration. The author takes you from one of the darkest places she has ever been in to a place in which she offers hope to others. She’s still struggling in the midst of it all but thankfully has hope on her team these days. Without further ado, I give you this week’s Postpartum Voice of the Week:

 

I didn’t have a “mom” growing up. I had no one to teach me right from wrong, no one to talk to, no one to look up to. My mom was physically there, just enough to scrape by with the title of “mom.” When I needed her to get through some of the darkest times of my life, she wasn’t around. I was so miserable having someone who was supposed to be there, but who wasn’t. I had promised myself that I would be the mother to my kids that I never had.

The time came for me to be mom when my first child was born in 2008. I was overjoyed, ecstatic, blessed to have such a title and to give everything I had to this little baby. We welcomed his younger sister into our family in early 2010, and with that, our family was complete. I was ready to raise these children in a family full of love and be the best mom I could possibly be. I was meant to be a mom, it was the only aspiration I ever had.

Having had a difficult childhood myself, I knew the face of depression. I understood feelings of being worthless, hopeless, and simply not good enough. What I didn’t know was that these feelings could accompany the birth of a child. After my daughter was born, things gradually started getting worse. I would become irritable with every cry, angry every time a bottle wouldn’t soothe my crying little one, and just hostile when things weren’t going the way I had planned. Six months had gone by; I had brushed the feelings off my shoulder as if they were “normal.” I had 2 kids under 2, things were supposed to be hectic, right? Running on very little sleep, being needed by two kids simultaneously with only 2 hands was enough to make any mom a little discouraged when things were rough and there was no help in sight.

Six months postpartum, I had noticed I wasn’t getting better. The irritability was at its worst, I had those same feelings of worthlessness that I had once experienced, I had no desire to take care of my kids, I had no desire to even take care of myself at this point. I let all the housework go, I cried at the drop of a hat even when I had no logical reason for crying, I started spending more time in bed, and nothing seemed worth it anymore. I had awful thoughts of leaving my children, my family, and never looking back. I just didn’t want anything. I felt like a failure; I wasn’t even good at what I wanted to be for so long…a mom. My children didn’t deserve me anymore. I kept thinking of my mom, and how there were times I wished she weren’t around-that she weren’t my mom. I didn’t want my kids to grow up wishing I wasn’t their mom or that I wasn’t around because I was a spitting image of my own mother. I thought taking myself out of the equation was the best decision for my family. I whole-heartedly believed someone could do my job better.

No matter how much I wanted to in that moment, I couldn’t ever leave my children. Ever. I knew something was wrong, and I needed help immediately before such irrational thoughts became my reality. I asked my husband to drive me to the hospital, that it was an emergency. He really had no idea what was going on, my feelings were kept to myself because I didn’t want anyone to think bad of me or that I was a bad mom for having such thoughts. After being evaluated for an hour, I wanted to walk right back out the doors I walked in. I was scared; there was no way I belonged there. Seeing other patients walk the halls with their head down, the screams that came from rooms down the hall that warranted a handful of doctors to hurry off, I knew this was a mistake. My anxiety was too much for me to handle at this point. The evaluating nurse asked me many questions that left me with feelings of shame. How could I have such deep, dark feelings when I have two beautiful children at home needing me? Needless to say, I was admitted. There was no turning back, I was there and there was no way out. Although I knew this wasn’t the right place for me, I made the decision to get everything I possibly could out of this hospital stay. I told the numerous psychiatrists and therapists I saw on a daily basis exactly how I felt, why I was there, and let them in on my life (which is something I don’t do until I have full trust in a person). Against medication from the beginning, I openly tried whatever meds they wanted to put me on because I was desperate to get better. I was diagnosed with PPD/PPA/PPOCD. What was that? I had no clue there was such a diagnosis. I was never talked to about this. After nearly a week of being there, I was released…sent on my way. I had the number to a psychiatrist and a therapist whom I was instructed to follow up with. I did just that. The psychiatrist changed my meds completely, and it was only weeks before I started to really see an improvement in my behavior. I’m still working on finding the right combination of meds to keep me stable, and we’ll go from there.

What I can tell you is that I now have hope that things will get better. If someone would have told me something, anything, about PPD ten months ago, I wouldn’t have hit rock bottom before reaching out for help. I wouldn’t have gone through four months of absolute misery thinking of how bad a parent I was and how guilty I felt that I couldn’t take care of my own children. I saw multiple healthcare professionals during my months postpartum- the OBGYN, my family doctor, my children’s doctor, nurses at hospitals when my kids were sick, yet no one ever asked me how I felt emotionally. I was too afraid to bring up my feelings, fearing they would tell me it was all normal and I was worrying too much. I almost took my life because I thought I had ruined not only myself, but my children. I almost walked out on the two most important people in my life because I thought I was crazy. The fear of admitting the awful thoughts I had was bizarre. I believed people would immediately think I was “crazy” or “undeserving” of my children. But I reached out. I took control of my own behavior. I waited too long hoping that someone would help me. I waited too long thinking I would eventually get better on my own. I waited too long to take this illness by the horns and control my own destiny. I wanted to get better so bad for my children, for my family. However, it took me wanting to get better for MYSELF before I had the courage to do so, to reach out and put myself and my feelings out there into the hands of people who have the control and the knowledge to help me. My biggest motivation was the thought of having to live the next day as miserable as the day before. Things needed to change.

These postpartum mood disorders have me in check. Every time a thought passes through my head that I have conquered this beast, I am made aware that I am still on my journey to recovery. I am, by no means, fully recovered from PPD/PPA/PPOCD, but it no longer controls me. I control it.

As awful as this journey has been, I have become a better person because of it. I have learned to cherish every moment with my children, from the sleepless nights to the temper tantrums. I have learned to appreciate things for what they are, rather than what I want them to be. Most importantly, I have learned that even in the late hours of the night, or on my darkest days, I am stronger than I think I am. I can get through the bad things, and things will get better. There is hope, and that’s what keeps me going…

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We are ALL Mother Superiors

According to Wikipedia, a mother superior is an abbess or other nun in charge of a Christian religious order or congregation, a convent or house of women under vows.

She is not defined as a particular ethnicity.

She is not defined by her language.

She is not defined by her skin.

She is, however, defined by her beliefs.

She is defined by her practice of those beliefs.

A Mother Superior is in charge of a household.

She rules the roost. Expects things to run in a particular order. HER order.

HER order may be perfection.

It may be defined by acts.

It may be defined by compassion.

It may be defined by dedication.

It may be defined by achievement.

It may be defined by satisfaction.

It may be defined by mood.

But ultimately, it is HER decision to decide how to rule her roost.

Not the decision of any other Mother Superior. But HERS.

As Mothers, in a home, we are all our own MOTHER SUPERIORS. We rule the roost. We call the shots. We ensure our philosophies, ingrained within us by our own Mother Superiors and HER Mother Superior and her Mother Superior and her Mother Superior and so on, are also ingrained within our offspring. Or not.

In each of our own private Abbeys, we rule.

Our children gather together at schools, at churches, at public events, at parties, play dates, and museums.

Enter the beauty of Chaos.

Our children play together. They learn together. No matter what our practice or beliefs, they play and learn together.

Or not. They play together IF they are allowed to play.

They will grow up to rule their own roosts one day.

Do we want them to grow up to do this as judgmental cynical women?

Do we want to encourage them to judge every move they make by the achievements of others? Should we do this? Should they?

Why is it in our nature to compare ourselves to the Mom down the block? The overachieving Betty Crocker? The PTA Mom who works tireless nights? The ultimate attachment, co-sleeping, EC training, breastfeeding, home birth mom who has done everything perfectly compared to us? Are we ready to send our own daughters helplessly down that same road? Are we?

Do we want them to grow up thinking that they have failed at Motherhood simply because they are the wrong ethnicity, the wrong class, the wrong everything?

Do we want our daughters growing up to think they have failed at Motherhood because all they can manage to put on that day is the same pajamas they have had on for two days?

Or do we want them to realize that a LOT of moms are exactly like that? That life happens. And sometimes? Life is depressing. Sometimes life requires we work harder at it to be successful.

I am not ready to sell my daughters down Keeping Up with the Joneses Lane. Not ready to ship them off to Just Keep Smiling Circle or Snap Out of It Drive.

I’m ready to send them soaring down Robert Frost’s Road in a Yellow Wood – urging them to discover the path not taken and make all the difference in the world. I want them to be Free to be themselves, not the vision I have for them. I want them to amaze me. To blow me away with their own dreams, their own passions, their own realized wisdom and growth. I want them to be happy. Happy and Free.

I want them to know that some of the best things in life don’t require awesome grades. They don’t require the bank account of Donald Trump. I want my children to value life. To value family. To realize that the best things in life cannot be bought. For any price.

I tell my daughters on a consistent basis that they can be anything they want to be IF they work hard enough at it.

I also tell them I will always love them as long as they are working to the fulfill their potential. If they are slacking, yes, I will chide them. But not to the point of derision. Not to the point of sleepless nights. Not to the point of bordering on abuse.

I will love them when they get a B.

I will love them when they decide to skip college.

I will love them.

I will love them because they are my children.

I will love them and hug them and squeeze them forever, successful or not, I will love them with all my heart.

If that makes me a Slacker mom, then so be it.

My kids, I think, are okay with that.

One reader’s reaction to Crystal’s Video

A close friend of mine, Marcie Ramirez,  a Co-Coordinator with Postpartum Support International in Tennessee, sent me the following piece last night. She wrote it to process her feelings after watching Joseph’s very poignant video about his daughter, Crystal. Marcie used to live in San Diego and was newly recovered from her own journey through postpartum when Crystal’s tragedy occurred. I immediately asked if I could post it as it was beyond fabulous. Sheer power and emotion are captured so magnificently here – I couldn’t let it just sit in my inbox. With no further fuss, here is the piece I received:

Today I was watching a montage that my friend had posted on her blog.  I had read the article which had the basic nuts and bolts…a story of yet another mom who didn’t survive the first year of her child’s life.  A mom, who just like me felt like her family would be better off without her and for whatever reason didn’t feel like she could ask for help.

As I watched the video I not only read the words but I noticed familiarities in the pictures.  It was a landscape common to San Diego, my home until not quite two years ago, where I gave birth to both my children and where I went through the most terrifying experience of my life.  I watched and my suspicions of this woman being from my home town grew when I saw the name of the cemetery.  My heart sank.  I clicked on a link in the blog that took me to the man’s original story and it turned out that he owns a restaurant my husband and I have been to on many occasions.  It was also the restaurant my family and I would go to every Christmas when we would look at the lights on Candy Cane Lane and Christmas Circle.  La Bella’s was one of the few perfect memories of my childhood.

As suspicion turned into reality I realized that I went through my Postpartum hell at the same time she was pregnant and when I was really starting to see a light at the end of my tunnel she saw nothing but darkness.  What if our paths had crossed?  What if I had been able to say something to her that would have allowed her the freedom to ask for help?  I never asked for help.  To this day I am still confident that if I hadn’t have been screened that I would be dead.

San Diego is on the forefront of Postpartum Mood Disorders.  I say this because I know first hand how incredible my access to maternal mental health services was.  I was screened through my pregnancy, before leaving the hospital and again at my six week postpartum checkup.  When I didn’t pass my screening there was a therapist onsite who saw me before I went home.  I saw posters, I had access to a psychiatrist who specialized in maternal mental health.  I wanted to kill myself many times but somehow was able to hold on because I knew if I could just make it to my next appointment that I would have a soft place to fall.  I spent close to two months in a mental hospital when I just couldn’t handle it anymore…but I survived and am thriving.  I am not only a better mom but a better and more empathetic person than I ever thought possible.

Still, when I read the words of this courageous father I was left wondering why she didn’t get the same help?  Was it because she wasn’t screened?  Was it because she developed the PPD after her last screening?  I don’t know and will never know.  What I do know, though is that just as we call our medical professionals to screen new moms we have a responsibility to do our own screening.  We don’t necessarily have to whip out the Edinburgh every week but we can sincerely ask a new mom how she is REALLY doing.  We can learn the signs of PPD and ways that we can help minimize the stress on new moms.   We can offer to bring lunch over and then have a real heart to heart conversation.  We can talk about our own experiences so that the one in seven who are suffering realize that they are not alone.  We can offer to take them to their appointment or watch the baby so they can take an uninterrupted nap.  There are so many things we who have been there can do to make a difference.

Ironically maybe an hour after I read the articles and watched the heart wrenching video, I was at a restaurant with my two boys who are now seven and three.  For some reason my oldest son asked if we could sit at a particular table in a section we had never sat in before.  At the same time a family sat down at the next table.  Mom, dad and a beautiful little girl who was maybe a year old.  The little girl, however screamed over and over and over…and every time she screamed I saw the life draining from her mother’s face.  The mom would bury her head in her hands as if trying to escape.

I was instantly back into my first year postpartum.  I could see, smell, taste and hear the very things that were going on when I was in that place.  My heart sank and I just wanted to walk over, hug her and tell her that she would be able to get through this.  Normally when it’s just a mom and baby I can easily strike up a conversation and casually mention that I had PPD.  This was different, though because dad was there.  He seemed like a wonderful and supportive father from what I could tell from my few minutes watching the family.  He was trying to take over with the daughter so mom could eat in peace.  Eventually he got up to get a drink and I was able to speak briefly with the mom.  I gave her my card which had my contact info for the work I do with Postpartum Support International.

Hopefully this mom was just having a bad day.  But what if she wasn’t?  What if she felt completely hopeless and was ready to escape by any means necessary?  We don’t know.  That is why it is so important for each and every one of us to love new moms and be there for them.  Sometimes a kind word can be the beginning of changing someone’s forever.

Shame on Oprah

Today as I was watching TV with Grandmama, I saw a commercial for Oprah’s show this afternoon. The ad made mention of overwhelmed parents. So I asked my husband to set up our TiVo to record the program as I thought that maybe Oprah would be talking about Postpartum Depression or something similar. I was OH SO WRONG and OH SO MISLED by the ad.

I turned on the show to watch just a few moments ago and deleted it just a few minutes into the program. The topic was about overwhelmed parents but the lead interviewee was a mom who had tragically left her two year old daughter in her car for eight hours. Graphic 911 calls were played prior to the first commercial break (which, by the way, I did not make it to) and the mother wept as they were played.

Really, Oprah? REALLY?

Yes, this is a tragedy and needs to be addressed. But to advertise it as a show about overwhelmed parents with no warning regarding the true topic and stories to be included is sheer irresponsibility. Clearly this is a situation that may arise from being overwhelmed but I would say this is more than just Overwhelmed. My heart and prayers go out to this family as I cannot imagine being in their shoes but SHAME ON OPRAH for misrepresenting her topic and possibly causing harm to a mother out there who may be suffering from Postpartum Depression and had been told to watch the show by some well-meaning family member or like me, seen the ad and decided to watch because SHE TOO was feeling a bit overwhelmed and saw the possibility of hope and help. Afterall, it IS OPRAH and that’s what she does, right?

And it starts….

Well folks –

Here we go.

Let the TECH FREE FOR PPD weekend start!

Click here to sign up on my virtual pledge sheet!

A donation link will be posted Monday morning along with my handwritten account of how the weekend went.

My husband will be updating the blog this weekend to let y’all know how I’m doing.

I will be unplugging my laptop and putting it away in the bedroom. He will be changing the password to his computer so I can’t get on it either. I will be shutting my email and internet functions off on my Centro.

And just a quick FYI, my daughters are THRILLED I won’t be checking my email every few minutes. I think Alli is beside herself at having me all to herself this weekend!

I am probably in bed as this is posting as I’ve got it scheduled to go up at 1159p Friday night.

I’m looking forward to having the computer closed and focusing on my family. I’m sure I’ll probably have some withdrawal symptoms but I’ve been dialing back all week so hopefully that will help.

This morning I got an email from Jane Honikman about my weekend plans. This is what she had to say:

Hi Lauren, Wendy shared your newest fundraising idea with me and I checked out your site about it. Know you can do this too!  Actually it might be an opportunity to tell all who blog with you that Grandma Jane’s wisdom is “turn off your computer each evening at 5”.   Life without computers or tv means more face to face time with those around us.  Good for the soul and body to be unplugged! Good luck and enjoy your weekend!  I appreciate your continuing support for PSI!! hugs, Jane

I want this to also be an example that we MUST remember to take time for ourselves in this crazy and rushed world. It allows us to focus on what’s really important and also encourages our families to do the same. Starting these habits early with our children allows them to grow up and develop the good habit of learning to enjoy the little things and appreciate the time we have with others.

As the girls played with play-doh this morning, Alli found a sheet of paper and was using them as directions. Charlotte wanted to have some so I ended up writing some down for her – and of course, Alli wanted those same directions so I made her a copy as well. The following is what I wrote and I hope that you will take some of it (minus the getting the play-doh out although it IS fun to play with it!):

First you get out the play-doh.

Then you play and play and play and play some more.

And last, you let your imagination run free.

Don’t worry – it will come back to you.