It’s the APA’s Mental Health Blog Party day and my weekly installment of Just Talkin’ Tuesday. (If you’re interested in reading other entries for today’s Blog Party, the APA is rounding them up here.)
Today, the APA is asking all mental health (and not) bloggers to raise our voices in order to shatter the stigma which surrounds mental illness and disorders. In that spirit, I had to give quite a bit of thought to the topic for today’s Just Talkin’ Tuesday post. It had to be a topic we had not covered recently as well as one that fit the blog party spirit. And wouldn’t ya know it, inspiration strikes right as I am seriously craving some time with my bed. This topic has been meandering about upstairs for a few days but decided to wait until the last second to make a mad dash for the door, er, keyboard. So here I sit, at 1215am EST, words pouring onto my blog. I make no promises as to the length of this ramble. Proceed at your own caution and time restraints.
It started with a simple phrase uttered to me while at psych ward on a suicidal/harm to others hold during my second postpartum experience.
“You don’t have to tell anyone where you were this weekend.”
Why would I want to keep this experience a secret? What reason would I have for not wanting to share my struggle?
My mother raised me to keep the communication lines open no matter how deep the trauma. And my father taught me to always, ALWAYS think before I spoke. So you see, I strive to keep a balance between the two. Sometimes this means holding my tongue or my thoughts for a bit longer than I should and missing out on opportunities to speak up. But then I figure maybe it is for the best I didn’t say anything in the first place.
More than anything though, I believe strongly in both values. And these values are what caused me to question why on earth the nurse told me I didn’t have to tell anyone about my visit to the psychiatric wing. And what pray tell, would I have told them? That I had won a trip to the Carribean? Been waited on hand and foot? Slept the weekend away on pillows flatter than ironed Martha Stewart Linens? C’mon, people!
From the very beginning of my downfall, I was vocal about my experience. I asked questions. I sought answers. I wanted to talk to other mothers. I needed, desperately, to know that I was not alone in this new pitch black rough and tumble sea.
There was something I clung to as a lifesaver in the midst of my temporary insanity. And I don’t think I have ever properly thanked him for saying it to me right when I needed to hear these words the most.
“You are reacting no differently than anyone else in your shoes would be. Don’t let them tell you any different!”
My father spoke those words to me during a phone call from the hospital. I clung to that phone like a lifeline. My father’s words echo through my mind every so often but back then, when I needed to hear them most, they were a shiny buoy of hope in my dark dark sea. I never let go. Thank you Dad, thank you for knowing just what to say right when I needed to hear it. I am sorry if I have not thanked you before now but THANK YOU. From the very depth of my very healed heart.
If I could be on the phone, by golly, I was on the phone. Talking. Sharing. Being HONEST about where I was and how I had gotten there. And every last person on the other end accepted me, loved me, did not judge me. I know how fortunate I am to have that kind of support. Believe me, I am above and beyond grateful for the support which exists in my world. There are others who exist and fight with no support, no place to turn, alone in their dark sea upon which they are now sailing. Sailing with no compass, no supplies, lost.
There are mothers out there who struggle in the darkness for a very long time. So long, in fact, that Dr. Arlene Huysman coined a term, Progressive Postpartum Depression, an undiagnosed Postpartum Depression which gets darker and darker as time marches forward, dragging the darkness along for the ride. So long that there’s an entire Scientific American article dedicated to the topic and a ton of research on the impact of untreated Maternal Depression if you should care to go looking for it via Google or med journals. Why do they stay quiet? Why do they not seek help? It does not make sense. If your throat is sore, you see the doctor. Heart attack, ER. So why not this? Is it not the same? It should be treated as such.
But it is not.
Many believe you should be able to snap out of a depression. That Happiness is a choice. That somehow, we are choosing to be sad, insane, or conjure up these intrusive thoughts to get out of being a mother. That it’s all a conspiracy. But it’s not. Oh, it is SO not a conspiracy. There’s no dark back room to which we all retreat in the middle of the night and agree on what symptoms to exhibit the next day to escape the humdrum of domesticity. We don’t choose straws to see who gets to be the happy housewife and who gets to curl up in a ball muttering to herself. There are no auditions for this. IT.JUST.HAPPENS. And guess what? We don’t like going through it anymore than you enjoy watching us go through it.
A Postpartum Mood Disorder is sheer hell. First, there’s the myriad of symptoms from anxiety, to depression, to not eating to not sleeping to obsessing, to thinking horrific thoughts about what might happen to baby, what we might do to baby, etc, so on and so forth. And then there’s the guilt. OH the guilt. The guilt of not wanting to have anything to do with our baby. The guilt over not gushing over baby or not snapping back as quickly as celebrities or not coping like the suave women in the Johnson & Johnson commercials. The suave women who invade our homes every day as we sit in front of the TV with a screaming infant as our hair becomes ratty and our bathrobes and slippers wear thin because we haven’t changed our clothes in over a week. And then, there’s the judgment. We are supposed to be happy. Anything less than happiness is unacceptable in most families. Suck it up. Get over it. Yeah, motherhood is hard but I just did it. I didn’t get sad. I didn’t curl up in a ball. I don’t remember.
We are all different.
We are ALL beautiful.
And there is a quiet power in each and every one of our stories. An important power. One we must protect and share so that others will listen, learn, and understand.
When I was in the thick of my Postpartum sea with waves crashing all around me, I dreaded sharing my story. I hated having to explain to yet another person what had brought me to my knees. I hated answering questions. At some point, that changed. At some point, it became liberating to tell others how I had managed to escape and heal. The mode of transportation whether it be natural, pharmaceutical, physical, spiritual – does not matter. All that matters is that you find what works for you, for your personal philosophy and situation. And damn anyone who dares to judge your choices. YOU are in charge of you – don’t ever forget that. It is your path to wellness and not that of anyone else. Take command of your decisions and let no man judge you for them.
When I first shared my postpartum story with power behind my words, it was with Wendy Davis of Postpartum Support International as I applied to be a Coordinator here in the state of Georgia. At the time, there was only one other Coordinator. There are now four of us, a statewide support network, and two support groups in operation according to the PSI Georgia webpage. That’s a lot of growth in just three years. Since then, I’ve operated my own support group (which has stopped meeting due to lack of local interest and support), began blogging to reframe a third pregnancy, and also become the Community Leader for two iVillage message boards dedicated to helping both Postpartum and Pregnant women who are depressed or struggling with mental illness. I’ve also recently started a #PPDChat at Twitter. Turnout there is still small but it has been powerful. I believe in quality vs. quantity when it comes to peer support. Every time I share a piece of my story, I empower another woman, another family. I continue to empower myself through my sharing. I am always healing, a work in progress.
There are power in your words. Share them but share them wisely and carefully.
How did you finally share your Postpartum Story? What made you decide to share your story? Was it with a loved one? With a colleague? A complete stranger? In person? Online? Or have you held it in for years, filled with shame because there was no one to tell who wouldn’t judge you?
Let’s finally get to just talking – and beat the crap out of PMD stigma while we’re at it, ladies and gents!