Tag Archives: PPD

On Shonda Rhimes, Race, & Postpartum Depression

Last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy has some folks flurrying around, claiming it stigmatizes mental illness and does some serious damage to women who struggle with Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. (Click here to read more about this battle moms are taking to Shonda’s alleged shaming of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders.)

I’d like to take a view that is the polar opposite of being infuriated.

Shonda Rhimes did everything right last night.

Everything.

(This is where you go elsewhere if you haven’t seen the episode yet and don’t want spoilers – in fact, go get Happy with Pharrell!)

We start the episode out coming back from winter break – we last found out that Kepner & Jackson’s baby has serious issues and Derrick is leaving for DC after a fight with Meredith.

HELLLOOOO STRESS and high tensions.

The opening scene involves Meredith discussing the hiring of a nanny with Callie. The conversation is interrupted by the incoming trauma of a mom who drove off a bridge with her two kids in the car. At this stage, we do not know the ages of the children and I don’t recall if they mention mom is pregnant at this time (ie, no need to jump to the PMAD hopscotch square yet). Meredith remarks, as everyone starts to walk, “Maybe she needed a nanny.”

Doesn’t every mom need a nanny at some point or other? Why does this imply a mental illness? It doesn’t. It implies motherhood is fucking difficult and sometimes, mom just needs some help (which we do).

Then, we fast forward to another scene where Dad arrives at the hospital after Mom has, only armed with the knowledge that there was an accident and believes someone has pushed his wife’s car off a bridge. He’s dumbfounded to find out it was his wife who was the driver – and rightfully so. Would you truly believe that your spouse were capable of driving off a bridge?

Stephanie interviews the husband as doctors and nurses prep his wife in a room, asking him if there’s anything he had noticed about her that – he interrupts, and says “You mean do I think she’s crazy? No! Absolutely not!” He then sits down and starts to list signs he’d noticed – fatigue, forgetting things, stressed, etc. Admits he’s been working a lot of hours and perhaps hadn’t been paying attention like he should have been.

Meredith, meanwhile, becomes the woman’s advocate and pushes back against any judgement implying the patient is, for lack of a better word, crazy. In fact, Meredith is the one to push for a physical diagnosis of her behaviour instead of a psychiatric one.

In the second half of the episode, the husband breaks down with Jackson, weeping, asking how on earth he could have missed this and how could he have been prepared for something like this to happen? Of course this hits Jackson hard as he is facing the birth of a child with serious health issues.

April, in her own personal hell after learning the situation with her own unborn child, goes on the most glaring rant against the patient’s behaviour.   Callie attempts to calm her down but doesn’t really get anywhere. April’s reaction, to me, was completely justified because she’s reacting from a place of hurt and is projecting.

Here’s how I saw the episode go down, in bullet points:

  • Situation/stigma presented (start in the messy)
  • Situation/stigma delved into
  • Situation/stigma pushed back against

How often do we see a show that deals with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder by introducing the stigma, toying with it, but not dealing with it and instead treating it like the elephant in the room?

Grey’s didn’t do that last night.

No.

In fact, they brought the stigma in, expanded it by using a woman and family of colour, and then they smashed right through every single damn stigma aspect they introduced.

And yet, that’s still not enough.

A groundbreaking episode presented to us on a popular television show run by the ONLY woman of colour in TV running things right now and that’s STILL NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

What the actual hell?

I watched the episode, waiting for the horror to unveil itself. Instead, I found myself agreeing with every single situation I had seen bashed as being handled poorly. Every single situation in this episode seen as “stigmatizing” simply WAS NOT STIGMATIZING. AT ALL.

I expected one of the children to be an infant. But nope. Well out of toddler years for both children.

There was simply no reason to fly off the handle for this episode. None. Except wait, the line where someone mutters “crazy moms who…” We push back against this as hard as we can with facts, with exposure of what it’s really like to live with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder. Guess what? Even though last night’s mom didn’t have a PMAD? They pushed back. They had a solid grasp on reality and they exposed it. Reality is, this is where we are as a culture – and that isn’t going to change over night. I, for one, welcome a show which is willing to push the boundaries of stigma and what exists there but also be willing to yank it back. Because in reality? Not everything is neatly tied up and beautiful replete with facts and details.

Shonda Rhimes starts where it’s messy. Then she wades through it and brings it to conclusion. Does it end up where we want it to? No. But you know what? It starts with what we recognize as a CULTURE. Is that right? Not yet. But we’re getting there and last night’s episode of Grey’s acknowledged that in a big way because it:

  • introduced a woman of colour who did something unspeakable
  • had the husband deal with it appropriately
  • involved the staff reacting in an appropriate medical manner without judging mom

In my book, that’s GROUNDBREAKING, not shameful. Not at all.

Thank you, Shonda Rhimes, for putting this episode together and doing so in a respectful and mindful manner. Keep that up.

 

#PPDChat 11.17.14: Holidays & PPD

ppdchat-11-17-14

As the holiday season rapidly approaches and social appearances are greatly expected, those of us who struggle with mental health issues store up excuses to bow out of gatherings. While saying no is a phenomenal practice, there may be some gatherings which are required. We grit our teeth and bear it, hoping to repair our anxiety once it is over.

Tonight’s chat will focus on coping mechanisms for surviving the holiday season. Learning to say no, surviving when we are sucked into the vortex of family and work gatherings, and building self-care for our souls into the holiday season. ‘Tis the season to give of ourselves, but also TO ourselves. Be kind to yourselves these holidays – refill your pitcher as you pour to others.

Join me tonight at 830pm ET on Twitter. See you at #PPDChat!

 

In case you missed the chat, here’s the transcript:

#PPDChat 09.21.14: When Darkness Falls – SAD & PPD

ppdchat-09-22-14Fall Equinox.

When I was a kid, I loved those words. It meant the leaves would soon change colour, setting the landscape ablaze in yellows, oranges, reds, and the sunlight would carry the newly found rainbow into the sky as it sank beneath the horizon earlier and earlier every night.

It also meant my birthday was only 4 days away.

But now, as I have journeyed several days down the path of life, I don’t enjoy those two little words as much any more. In fact, they make me sad. I strive to find the joy in autumn and not focus too much on the shorter days and looming increase in hours spent in the dark, away from the sun.

I moved back to the northeast United States a few years ago. The first year I was here, Sandy hit. I have not been right since. The cloudy days, the shorter days, the snow (dear LORD, the snow), the dark – it has me sinking into the depths of my couch in the winter, fighting for any shred of happiness I can find. I finally had a discussion with my doctor about it last year and we realized it may actually be a combination of PTSD from Sandy and the settling in of SAD.

So now, this year, I am prepared. I fought back last year with medication (finally) but after doing everything else I could do as well – a therapeutic SAD lamp, Vitamin D, socialization, etc. But this year, I’m still on my meds, I use my light every morning as I drink my first cup of coffee and catch up with friends on social media, easing myself into my day.

Tonight, we’ll discuss not only the very real issue of Seasonal Affective Disorder, but how that may complicate PPD and things you can do to battle both at the same time. I hope you’ll join us.

See you tonight at 830pm ET!

#PPDChat 08.25.14: Single Parents & PPD

Single Parents and PPDTonight’s #PPDChat is one we should have had a long time ago. Motherhood is often faced alone by women, for a myriad of reasons. On top of facing parenthood alone, many of these single mothers also face the beast of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders on their own as well. With less time, less resources, less energy, they have to find ways to fight back on their own.

A Canadian study showed thatBoth teen and adult mothers were approximately five times more likely to experience PPD if they received no support or minimal support after the birth of the baby.”

FIVE TIMES MORE LIKELY.

FIVE.

It’s important for us to support all mothers, regardless of their history, status, etc. Mothers are mothers and babies are babies. We all deserve the best start possible.

I sincerely hope you will join me tonight as @addyeB and I discuss facing PPD as a single mom, what you can do to help yourself and to help single mothers you know in this situation.

Find us on Twitter at 830pm ET. See you then!

When the Awareness Month Ends

Where does the awareness go?

Does it get tossed in the trashcan? Do we save it and recycle it for next year’s shindig?

Or do we raise the banner and keep it waving for the entire year?

Awareness months are fabulous things.

But there’s a fault with them – they last only 28, 30, or 31 days.

Everything has an awareness month these days, it seems. We are all screaming about them from the social media rooftops. Pay attention to this, do that, say this, share that, use this hashtag, find this picture on Instagram, enter this, like this, donate here, etc.

It can all lead so very quickly to donor fatigue or the inability to comprehend anything regarding any of the topics we are supposed to give our all to because well, it’s the topic du mois.

Do you go home when it’s the first of the next month?

Or are you still there, in the stands, in the midst of the mess, yelling at anyone who will listen that this is something we should still give a damn about?

We need people who will stay and fight. People who will give their all for more than 28, 30, or 31 days. The people who scream and shout even when there’s nothing left – the people who sacrifice their entire heart and soul to save those around them – those are the people who make the difference. THOSE are the people I want to surround myself with as I move forward in life.

We all matter. Do we need to be ramped up even when it’s not THE MONTH for our cause? Yes and no. Advocacy is a shout in the sunshine but it’s also a quiet whisper in the dark. Sometimes it’s as simple as sharing your story. Other times, it’s far more complex and exhausting.

Whatever the form your advocacy takes, don’t drop it just because it’s no longer the right month.

Carry that flag with you throughout the year. Hold your head high, be a shining example and move others toward your cause by exemplifying the type of person you are inside – a fierce warrior capable of surviving anything life may throw your way.

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!

 

What Would Your Trophy Say?

“It’s psychotic. They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity.”

~Mr. Incredible, The Incredibles~

Ah, good old mediocrity. The goal for which everyone aimed, right?

Not really.

In the sixth grade, I completed in the school’s spelling bee. If memory serves correctly (I’m getting old and yes, there is truth to the old adage that brains stop working as well once you hit a certain age), I won the class competition which is what placed me in the school’s bee.

I won the school’s spelling bee.

Don’t ask me what word I spelled to win because I don’t remember.

I remember, however, thinking winning was kick-ass, especially because I was one of the younger kids in the school. I beat the older, (and I thought smarter), kids that day.

I did not make it past the county spelling bee, however, despite studying my ass off. The other kids there were simply better at spelling than I. (I know, completely shocking, right?)

I have the trophy stashed somewhere, probably in a box long gone, to be honest. Who knows. It is a symbol of victory, of not settling for anything but the best.

I also played soccer as a kid. Our team did not win a lot of games, we definitely did not win regionals or go to any sort of championship. At least, I don’t remember us doing so. Know what we all got at the end of the season? A tropy. For mediocrity.

That trophy, while pretty, is completely worthless. Sure, it has my name on it and is a symbol of a lot of physical exertion over a few months, but meh. There is no victory attached to it therefore it means nothing.

We do not need to reward people for mere participation. For just showing up. Awards are meant for people who go above and beyond expectations, who fight like hell to do their very best and dedicate their lives to be the very best they can be at what they do.

Trophies don’t go to people who half-ass it. At least, they shouldn’t.

I think anyone living with a mental illness who battles through their days just to survive, however, should have a damn trophy. Because that? IS HARD WORK. Getting out of bed, doing what needs to be done, making plans, living – that is damn near impossible for someone with a mental illness. Doable, but damn near impossible without an extreme exertion of energy, both physical and mental.

It is a well-practiced tango between mind and body – convincing the brain to properly control the body to do what it needs to in order to accomplish the most base tasks like eating, showering, cleaning, etc. Same days? It’s more like the hokey pokey – you put the left arm in, you take the left foot out, you do the hokey pokey and you shake it all about. If you’re lucky, you fall asleep and start all over again, praying that your mind & body are back in sync the next day.

If you created a trophy for yourself or someone you loved who struggled with a mental illness to inspire/empower them, what would it say?

Tell me down below!

I’m gonna have to give some thought to what mine would say. Stay tuned for that update!

On Helping Others

“How do you help all the women you do and not carry their pain with you?” asked my therapist as we sat in her office a little over two years ago.

“I don’t know. I just do.” I fidgeted slightly as I readjusted in the chair, popping my neck and a few vertebrae as I did so.

“But day in and day out, you are seeing people at their worst and helping them solve their problems. How do you manage to do that without internalizing it?” she rephrased, pushing me to answer.

“How do you do it?” I answered her push with a question.

“Nice try. You’re good at deflecting, aren’t you?”

I smiled and recrossed my legs, staring back at her.

“It’s an art, really. As for how I don’t carry their pain and issues with me, I just don’t. Their issues are not mine. I have fought my battles, I am fighting my battles, and I leave their battles to them. I learned, from fighting my own battles, that I cannot fight anyone else’s battles for them. They have to fight them. All I can do is point them in the right direction and hand them the right tools. That’s my job. That’s where it ends.”

“So you have never had a situation that shook you?”

“Of course. Haven’t you?”

“Yes. The difference is that….”

“You’re a trained professional and I am not?”

“Well, no. Perhaps. It is just that it takes a lot to be able to listen to issues day in and day out and not get worn down by that. Given that you are here and still helping other people, it is my job to make sure you are taking care of yourself.”

“I am. I know when to step away. I have people I can hand things off to if they get too intense and I know that I am not equipped to handle crises. I also have people I debrief with after any situation which involves a crisis – people check on me which is wonderful. I am peer support only, something I make very clear to anyone who reaches out to me.”

We wrapped things up shortly thereafter, this particular session not nearly as rough as the one where she pushed me to consider whether or not I had ever shown my true self to anyone at all including myself. But this session left me deep in thought too, which is what a therapy session is supposed to leave you doing – thinking about your issues in a constructive manner instead of just wallowing & ruminating.

Sometimes I would go hiking after my sessions. Other times, I would go for a long drive, music blasting, the windows down. I wish I could say I remembered what I did after this session but I don’t because frankly, the after sessions blurred together.

The discussion in this session though, is one that we can all learn from. While not everyone is actively helping stranger after stranger through what some consider to be the worst time of their lives (most of us who have been through a Perinatal Mood Disorder kindly call it hell), it is important to remember that when we are helping others to not allow their pain to become our own. It is possible to be compassionate without tucking someone else’s pain into a pocket in your own heart. Difficult, but possible. It is also important to know your own emotional limits. Do not ever sacrifice your own emotional well-being for someone else if you can help it. (Remember the whole your glass must be full in order to give to others rule here.)

My goal, when someone reaches out to me for help, is to empower them to deal with their issues on their own with help that is much closer (and far more professional). This should be your goal as well if you are a fellow advocate or a non-professional. Educate, empower, release. I follow up, of course, and some of the folks end up being pretty good friends, but most of the time, it is a catch and release sort of contact. It’s something I’ve grown to expect.

With each person I help, my own personal hell loses just a little more of its darkness, shoving me further into the light, allowing me to help even more people.

No woman or family should ever have to struggle through a Perinatal Mood Disorder alone. This is why I do what I do and why I will never stop.

Because every single one of us matters to someone out there.

A Simple Dream

A mum in the UK recently took her own life. Fellow PPD blogger Ivy Shih Leung wrote a very long and insightful piece about it here.

While I have not read anything beyond Ivy’s piece, I want to address one of the issues Ivy touches on in her post. For me, it is one of the primary reasons women who struggle with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder still fight so desperately with reaching out for help and then with actually receiving the proper help.

Our battle has multiple levels. Were PMAD’s a video game, we would have to survive level after harrowing level before finally reaching a properly educated doctor or therapist. Some of us may be lucky enough to skip all these harrowing levels but for most of us, we are destined to fight with all we have while we don’t have much just to get by in a world expecting us to be super mom while we are at it.

First, we have to fight with ourselves to acknowledge that there is a problem.

Then, we fight with loved ones for help with every day tasks and with reaching out for help.  We fight the argument that we are “faking” or “pretending” just to get out of housework or parenting. We are, some of us, told to suck it up and get over it. Move on. We’ll fall in love with our children eventually. Worse yet, some of us are told depression is some sort of luxury the former generations did not have time with which to deal.

Next, we fight with the front desk folks at the doctor’s office who may tell us such things as “If you’re not suicidal, don’t call us until you are.” (And yes, shamefully, that DOES happen in real life).

We then level up to arguing with a doctor who may brilliantly tell us that our hormones should be back in order by now so of course it can’t be Postpartum Depression despite the fact that we just admitted several high risk symptoms to them. So we are referred to the therapist who calls and reschedules until we are exhausted and cancel altogether.

So we suck it up and try to make do on our own until the next baby when we completely fall apart and start the entire routine all over again. Only this time around, there is a little less resistance from family members and friends because they have seen you go through this before and realize that maybe, just maybe, she isn’t making it up this time around.

But we have to stay off the Internet because it’s a dangerous place for a woman with a PMAD to be – we will be judged for breastfeeding while taking medication or for giving formula because we have to medicate. We didn’t try hard enough to protect ourselves, there is something wrong with us. Damn straight there is something wrong with us – it’s an illness, it’s real, and it is hell.

Psychiatric stigma is bullshit. The divisiveness motherhood brings to a woman’s life is bullshit. Hell, sometimes just being a woman altogether is bullshit. Why we judge each other so harshly for our choices is so beyond me I don’t even know how to begin to understand why we do this. I’m serious – I truly do not understand the in-fighting or bickering.

It comes down to understanding one simple truth:

Each mother needs to do what is best for HER and for HER family. As long as she is doing just that, we do not need to judge, we do not need to place blame, stigma, guilt, or any other negative blanket upon her or her family.

The Internet can be a fabulous place for support if you end up surrounded by the right people and ignore the wrong people. It’s finding the wonderful people that is the challenge.

I have a simple dream, in closing. It’s a dream that one day, mothers of all sort of different beliefs, will be able to have a discussion about parenting without inadvertently reducing each other to panic attacks and/or tears because they’ve judged someone for doing something outside the realm of *their* comfort zone.

One day, right?