Tag Archives: mental health

#PPDChat Topic: #Semicolonproject416 – Life Goes On

#PPDChat Topic - ; and Life Goes On There’s a fabulous group bringing attention to those who live with mental health issues – The Semicolon Project. Their mission statement:

“The Semicolon Project is a Non-Profit Organization dedicated to presenting hope, help, and support to the people and communities suffering from mental health issues. We are here to address depression, anxiety, self-harm, addiction, and suicide. We aim to inspire and encourage people to do one of the hardest things imaginable: ask for help when they need it most.”

These are similar goals to #PPDChat. We are here to encourage people to reach out, address issues, and educate those who are fighting against this specific set of mental health issues. Our passion is dedicated to helping new families thrive as they find their way through new parenthood and for many of them, a new struggle with mental health challenges along the way.
According to The Semicolon Project’s Twitter profile, the meaning behind the semicolon is this:
“A Semicolon represents a sentence the author could’ve ended but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”
Life is challenging with twists and turns. The toughest challenge, however, is to place a semicolon where you feel like there should be a period. Join me tonight as we talk about choosing to move past the tough and continue the sentence into the rest of our lives.
If you, or someone you love, are in crisis right now, there is help and there is hope. Reach out, seek help. If you need to call someone who understands and can help you, dial 800-273-TALK (8255). You are never alone.
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#PPDChat Topic 03.24.14: Say This, Not That

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Language. It’s how we communicate with one another. It’s what I’m using right now to convey a message. We have so many -isms and quotes about how to use language in polite company, don’t we?

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

“Think before you speak.”

“Keep the communication lines open.”

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

But those contradict each other, don’t they?

Yes, and no.

If you think before you speak, you won’t say anything horrible, therefore you won’t hurt anyone, but then the communication lines may be closed unless you only allow the positive out, right? And heaven forbid you grab a sword instead of a pen. A pen – writing – allows us to THINK before we “speak” – to work out what it is we want to say and to edit our thoughts carefully before sharing them with others.

My father drove home the point of thinking before I speak. My mother, on the other hand, emphasized keeping the communication lines open.

Do you have ANY idea how difficult that is to bring to a happy middle? DO YOU?

Sometimes I can’t help but laugh at my inability to speak up or comment on something because I know exactly what I want to say but can hear my father’s voice in my head telling me to “think before I speak” immediately followed by my mother’s voice telling me to “keep the communication lines open.” So sometimes I speak, other times, I remain silent. When I do speak, I do try to be succinct, compassionate, and non-accusatory. Does it always work out? Hell no, I’m human for crying out loud and to err is to be human or something along those lines.

But here’s the thing.

Language does matter. Tone matters. Perception matters.

That’s what we’ll be addressing tonight. Language. Tone. Perception. Not just our own, but that of those around us. Every single one of us has our own baggage. What someone says about you or how they choose to react TO you is not necessarily about you, or even about them. It might be something they’ve been dragging with them for years and it merely slips out at the wrong time. Or at the right time.

Language makes or breaks stigma. So do actions. This morning, I read this wonderful post over at Brain Pickings: The Unaddressed Business of Filling Our Souls: Mood Science and the Evolutionary Origins of Depression. It is a brilliant post in that she examines a book entitled “The Depths” by Jonathan Rottenberg (which is now on my MUST READ list). One of the points she mentions that Rottenberg makes is that emotion/mood are terribly languagecentric.

Think about it – we assign positives and negative stigmas to words which describe moods. Are we supposed to find “joy” when someone is depressed? No, of course not, but what if instead of reacting with pity, we instead dove in and asked if we could do anything to help? Or we saw it as Rottenberg sees non-severe depression (ie, paralyzing depression), just as part of the ebb and flow of the cycle of life?

How we describe ourselves and how we allow others to describe us affects our self-view and therefore affects our moods. It matters how much weight we ascribe to the words swirling around us in the dark.

Tonight’s chat will examine words commonly used to describe depression and those who are depressed or living with mental health battles raging inside them. It is up to us, the survivors and the warriors, to change the language we use to describe ourselves and our battles. Until we do so, the language used by others will not change.

I hope you’ll join in on Twitter tonight at 830pm ET to discuss this with me as we create a list of things for those who loves us to say…and not to say as we fight for ourselves.

 

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?

A Few Thoughts On Rejection

For those of you who had the balls to go audition for Listen To Your Mother, you rock. To those of you who made it, congratulations.

To those of you who didn’t – hello, my sisters.

I have seen friends celebrate and I have seen friends react to not being chosen. Of course it’s natural to be upset. In addition to pouring our souls out through words, we then got up in front of others and *gasp* read those words aloud.

The challenge in being rejected is to not take it personally. But.. but… those are my words, you’re thinking! I READ THEM. HOW IS THIS NOT PERSONAL???

Think of it this way – you plan to sew a gorgeous quilt. You need fabric first, right? So you go to a local fabric store with hundreds of choices. You spend hours sorting through the fabric, comparing them to each other and analyzing the appearance of each scrap in the final design. You can’t possibly use every single scrap of fabric in the quilt and end up with the appearance you want, right?

That’s what the people in charge of LTYM are doing – they are creating a quilt of words and they can’t possibly use all the words they hear or read during the audition phase. So they are forced to make a final selection after browsing the most amazing “fabrics” they have to choose from. In doing so, they work to find pieces which fall into a specific pattern, pieces which will work together for the show they envision. So, you see, it isn’t about you at all. It’s all about their job to select the best pieces for the design they see before them.

I went into auditioning this year with the mindset that I wouldn’t be chosen. But if I did that, then why bother auditioning?

Because standing in front of people, reading words I wrote, scares the ever-loving crap out of me. It is beyond my comfort zone. I don’t even read my blog posts to myself after I write them if that gives you any indication of how much I dislike reading my words. I struggle to accept the compliment of “hey, you’re a really great writer!” to be completely honest.

I am genuinely happy for those who made it into LTYM shows this year. It is an honor to be chosen and it takes courage to get up in front of such large audiences and read personal stories. To those who with me in not being chosen – you are still just as awesome as you were the moment before you took a shaky deep breath and stepped inside that audition room (or connected via G+ Hangout or Skype). No one gets to tell you any different. It takes guts to do that and even more guts to cope with rejection.

Below is the piece I read on Sunday morning for my audition. I like it, they laughed, everyone who has read it has told me it rocks. But it just didn’t fit into the show for whatever reason. I’m okay with that because you know what? I’m writing way more this year than I was last year and with each audition, I’m getting better at it. Sure, it’s nice to have acknowledgements and acceptance from others but in reality the only opinion which matters of yourself is your own.

Enjoy reading my audition piece!

____________________________________

It’s a strange balance, this juxtaposition of womanhood and motherhood.

If we falter even the slightest, it’s as if someone yanked the worst possible Jenga block out of our intricately formed tower and we’re left hoping we’re as brilliant as Raymond Babbit, able to immediately calculate what’s fallen down as well as how to fix it.

As mothers, we are expected to heal everything, know everything, cook everything, be everything. I don’t know everything, I can’t heal everything, I am not everything, but I am able to cook almost everything. Except insects because that’s just gross.

When I was a little girl, I shoved stuffed animals under my shirt in the sunroom of our family cottage over on the Jersey Shore. I’d unceremoniously yank them out after a few minutes (which back then, felt like an eternity), giving birth to my “children.”

Stuffed animals made the best children in the world. They didn’t cry, they didn’t poop, they didn’t throw up….seriously. They were awesome. Plus, how on earth could you be sad whilst cuddling an adorable fuzzy teddy bear?

Fast forward about 20 years or so and there I was, in a hospital in rural South Carolina, about to give birth. It was a bit more complicated than yanking a stuffed animal from under my Mickey Mouse shirt – this time, I was screaming, pushing, and praying the epidural would magically start working on the side of my body engulfed in enough pain to convince me it was on fire.

Then, after 14 or so hours of labor, she arrived. In true Jersey Girl fashion, my oldest slid from the womb giving the doctor the finger on my behalf. I didn’t know what to do with her. She wasn’t soft and fuzzy. She was wet, naked, kicking, and screaming. The advice from the nurse about breastfeeding? Make sure you get the entire areola in her mouth – you know, the brown part. (Gee, thanks!)

I sought help at 12 weeks postpartum for depression only to be told “Hey! You don’t have PPD because at four weeks postpartum, your hormones slid magically back into place! But wait, there’s more…you’ve won a visit with our in-house therapist who will keep rescheduling!”

Swell.

We moved back to be closer to his family and I toughed it out without professional help. Then we got pregnant with our second.

Second time around saw me through over forty hours of labor. Delivery was fast once I pushed. But then, she was diagnosed with a cleft palate and I lost my mind. Medication at 10 days, hospitalization at 56 days, enlightenment shortly thereafter.

I didn’t have to suffer. I didn’t have to struggle. I had forgotten to mother the most important person in my life…me.

Self-care is not selfish, it is selfless. If you attempt to pour a glass of water from an empty pitcher, it is impossible. The same goes for self-care. If you attempt to care for others while not filling yourself, you will give nothing.

My third child was born after a quick and relatively simple labor. I didn’t have any issues after his birth as I did what I needed to in order to take care of myself first. I took care of my little guy and his sisters, but I managed my own well-being at the same time instead of just theirs.

I mothered all of us.

That, my friends, that is the key to mothering. It isn’t in balancing. It isn’t in being the Martha Stewart at the bake sale. It isn’t in knowing how to solve every single issue that may or may not crop up. It isn’t in being the Joneses on the street or even in being the Mom who lets her kid do whatever he or she wants.

The key to mothering is mothering EVERYONE in your family the best you can, yourself included. You are the nucleus of the family, the center of their worlds, and they are yours. Embrace this. Cherish this. Nourish this. In the process, however, remember to take impeccable care of yourself for without this important step, all of this may suddenly disappear into a dark vortex and suddenly, you won’t be in Kansas any more.

Remember Dorothy’s mantra? There’s no place like home. Only in real life, a mother’s ruby slippers are self-care and you absolutely must remember  to click them together….often.

Deciding to Disclose to Extended Family

One of the questions which inevitably comes up after a diagnosis with a mental health disorder following childbirth (or any mental health diagnosis, really), is deciding what details to share with anyone outside of immediate family.

Do you tell your boss? Your parents? Your grandparents? Cousins? How much do you disclose? What do you say? Do you risk them finding out through the grapevine (and we all remember how fabulous the game of telephone goes from childhood, right?) or do we fess up ahead of time to avoid misinformation spreading? Or do you keep it within your close little immediate family circle because no one else would understand?

All of these are perfectly valid concerns and things which should be considered.

Deciding to share your diagnosis is a personal decision. It isn’t one which should be forced and no one should demand it from you. It is YOUR diagnosis, your business, not theirs.

So how do you make the decision to share your diagnosis with others?

You consider these two questions:

1) Do they absolutely need to know? The primary consideration here rests with whether or not your diagnosis will affect their every day living. If you, for instance, are responsible for caring for your aunt’s kids after school (something which should be suspended if you’ve just had a baby anyway) but your diagnosis will delay you resuming this responsibility a bit longer, then yes, you need to tell her. But if it won’t and/or you don’t think she will be supportive, it’s probably best to not worry about bringing her into your “circle of trust” as you navigate your way back to wellness.

2) Will they be supportive? Briefly touched on in the first question, but this is a very important consideration. If you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone will be a valuable source of support, tell them if you are comfortable doing so. But if you’re not sure or you know they will judge you rather than support you, again, it is best to let them live outside the circle of trust. Post-diagnosis is all about getting you back to a place of wellness.

There are, of course, other more nuanced questions to consider but they range depending on the severity of your diagnosis, if hospitalization is necessary, and what the level of care you will need post diagnosis is expected to be. But the previous two questions are the two most important basic questions to consider when deciding to share your diagnosis with extended family.

Also important is to consider the support your spouse will need as you heal. This may involve informing some people you would rather not have first hand knowledge of your diagnosis. One thing you can do in this situation is to allow your spouse to inform them but also allow him to handle any and all discussions/questions, etc, with them rather than having them discuss things directly with you. Your stress level needs to be kept as low as possible until things begin to heal.

Tomorrow’s #PPDChat will focus on this issue of sharing your diagnosis with an extended family member. We’ll touch on all of the aforementioned issues including past experiences and hopefully offer some additional suggestions on how to handle this very common situation.

Join me tomorrow night at 830pm ET on Twitter with the hashtag #ppdchat to join in! Stay tuned for an official announcement here on the blog tomorrow morning!

 

On Walking Through Life as a Postpartum Mood Disorder Survivor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?