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

Words of Hope


Words have always brought me a great deal of comfort. Hope.

What I love about books, especially my favorites, is that each time I read them, I am struck by the power of some new phrase. Some new something in the novel speaks to me as if I were reading it for the first time. I’m finishing up my non-fiction unit with my freshmen. We’ve just read Night by Elie Wiesel.

Wiesel is a Holocaust survivor and his story, sparse in the telling, is powerful. Moving. Emotional.

I’ve probably read this novel 15 times, but never through the lens of postpartum depression.

Until this time.

“Eight short, simple words. Yet that was the time when I parted from my mother… Tzipora held Mother’s hand…my mother was stroking my sister’s fair hair, as though to protect her…and I did not know that in that place, at that moment, I was parting from my mother and Tzipora forever” (Wiesel 27).

Wiesel and his father spent a year in the concentration camps and their love for one another is often seen as the thing that drives them both to continue living. Mentions of his mother are infrequent as she does not survive.

But the memories he does share are of her strength. Her determination to care for and love her children. To not let them see her struggle with what she knows may happen to her family. To protect them from the cruelty in the world around them.

As I read this passage to my students, I thought of postpartum mothers, desperate to seem “normal” in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Wanting nothing more than to hide their struggles from loved ones. And as I read that passage, tears crept into my throat, causing me to choke just a little bit on the words.

I’d been that woman. Sometimes, I still am that woman. That mother trying so hard to show the world that I have it all together.

Monday night in the #PPDChat, we talked about what postpartum looks like for us. When it’s more than just tears. The conversation drifted away from the topic as it sometimes does and some of us began chatting about what those early days had been like.

The moment Joshua was placed in my arms in that recovery room, my love for him was immediate. Fierce. Never ending and unconditional. We didn’t bond right away, but I knew that I loved him more than I loved myself.

Now as I re-read that passage, I think of how Wiesel’s mother must have felt as she walked that path. How her bravery wasn’t really for the rest of the world. It was for her son and daughter. Had she been alone, she likely would have wept bitterly.

And then I find myself thrust from my musings back into today and I realize that this struggle to save face isn’t so much for me as it is for him. I fight so that he may never have to know what it’s like to live with mental illness. I fight because I love him. Because I want him to have a mother who is healthy and whole because that is the least that he, in all of his innocence, deserves.

I keep walking this path of recovery for him. I battle against the darkness, the despair, and the pain for him.

I have survived this not so that I CAN love him. But because I DO love him.

Miranda is a wife, mother, teacher, daughter, friend, and NOT a super mom.  At best, and worst, she’s average. But with a cape and tiara? She could probably save the world. She blogs about life as a mom and wife and PPD/A survivor at the blog Not Super…Just Mom.

Important questions don’t always have answers


I’ve been teaching high school English for 5 years, and in those 5 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to build relationships with many of my students.  Many of these students often come back to me after they are no longer in my class to ask for help with assignments or to talk. It’s sometimes tough for some of them to talk to parents or other adults, so when they feel comfortable talking to me, I want them to know that I’m here and available should they need me. Occasionally, building this trust requires that I open up a little bit with them, and while I teach from my heart, freely sharing my life with my students, there are parts that I keep close to the chest.

Last week a student came to me during his lunch period, which also happens to be my lunch period, and asked if he could use my classroom computer to print off some things for one of his classes. This student went through a particularly rough patch of bad decisions last year, and I helped guide him as best I could during that time and in the time after. He knows I’m a safe adult. I won’t judge. I may criticize, but I’ll listen first.

I gave him my permission and he sat down at the computer on the other side of my desk. I was editing a post and having trouble finding the right words, grumbling and complaining and muttering under my breath because I just could not figure out why the coding was messing up. (After switching to WordPress, I now blame Blogger :) )

He asked what had me so irritated and I told him about the post I was writing and the coding issues and he goes “Mrs. W. You have a website??” And without thinking, I said “Yes, I write a blog.”

And immediately I panicked and thought about that teacher who recently lost her job for blogging about her job. And Dooce. And and and. Panic!

“C, please, please don’t tell anyone!”

“I won’t Mrs. W. What’s it about?”

And then I realized that I had two choices. I could make something up, or I could be honest with him. In light of our relationship, I chose the latter.

“Well, C, it’s about being a mom, mostly. But it’s also about my battle with postpartum depression.”

“Postpartum depression? You’re depressed? Really? Why’d you get that?”

I’ve taught my students that “why” is the most important question we can ever ask when reading a piece of literature. Or when questioning anything.

And yet, there I sat, unable to answer.

I mean, why me, indeed? Why anyone?

Thanks to modern medicine and some superior coping skills, I’ve been able to mask my battles, I guess. And he was in my classroom when I was in the thick of things. Or maybe it’s that I’m less affected and most myself when I’m in the classroom. I feel comfortable in my classroom. I know what I’m doing in my classroom. My classroom is ME.

Motherhood is the great unknown. It feels like constant turmoil and chaos and uncertainty and discomfort.

Or, at least it did.

I tried to explain to him as best I could that what I’d gone through was normal but was not the norm.  That millions of women have gone and are going through what I’ve gone through and have (and will) come out okay.

And that, as will most mental illnesses, you may never know who is suffering. And, as with most mental illnesses, we just don’t talk about them openly, even though we should.

I was happy to end the conversation with him by saying that I thought my war was coming to an end. That I have more good days than bad, and that I know that I’m stronger for having gone through this. That he didn’t need to worry about me.

That maybe that’s why this happened to me. To make me stronger. To make me better somehow. More compassionate toward others.

I don’t know. And for now? I’m learning to be okay with not knowing. I’m learning to accept this as something that has become a part of my life, for better AND for worse, and to use it for good. Maybe DOING is the answer.

The more things change…


“Well, spring sprang. We’ve had our state of grace and our little gift of sanctioned madness, courtesy of Mother Nature. Thanks, Gaia. Much obliged. I guess it’s time to get back to that daily routine of living we like to call normal.”–David Assael, Northern Exposure

That’s pretty much how I feel about vacations. They’re nice little “springs” in our year, but after a season, it’s time to get back to normal. To our daily routines.

I’m resistant to change as a general rule. It just makes me all uncomfortable and out-of-sorts and irritable.

When we go out to eat, I have my “usual” at each location. (Bonus! Dan can order for me if I’m in the bathroom!)

I am always behind on almost any given fashion trend because at the time it debuts I think “How hideous!” and then, a year later, I find myself on the hunt for the perfect pair of rain boots or gladiator sandals or shade of nail polish. (Bonus! I find them on sale at T. J. Maxx because they are last season!)

I don’t often try new things.

I need our normal.  Apparently, so does Joshua.

As we were getting ready to leave the mountains on Sunday morning, Joshua started throwing a tantrum. Most of his tantrums are over nearly as soon as they begin. This one lasted for an hour.  At one point, I actually stuck my fingers in my ears in an attempt to drown out his…noise!

WhineCryScreamWhineCryScreamNoiseNoiseNoise.

I just couldn’t do it anymore!

I felt myself on the verge of a meltdown nearly as epic as his was at that moment. And I’m sure my friends wondered why I wasn’t doing anything about the tantrum. (Though, they too have a toddler and are likely as flummoxed as I was when their son goes into Tiny Terrorist mode. Everyone just kind of stands around dumbfounded and drooling like “uhhhh…..”.)

When things like that happen, I KNOW that 97% of the time they are because our routine has been interrupted.

If we have a bad evening, something was likely out-of-sorts that day at daycare. Or we made a detour by the grocery store on the way home. Something not normal happened and our normal shifted.

One of the things that helped me the most in the height of Joshua’s colic and the loneliness of PPD was going back to work the August after he was born. Because it gave me a routine. A normal. I knew what to expect. I’d been home with him for four months at that point and there was little to no routine.

I tried. Believe me. I tried. I used the ItzBeen timer. I looked for cues that he was sleepy or hungry or wanted to play. I tried, tried, tried to get him on a schedule and us into a routine that worked. And it was a futile attempt.

When I woke up from a nap on Sunday afternoon, a nap just like I take almost every Sunday afternoon, I felt instantly more calm than I had just hours before. I felt normal. Or like I was on the way back to normal. By the time we got home from the grocery store that evening, which is part of our Sunday routine, I felt even better. When my alarm clock went off Monday morning and I got dressed for work? I was myself again.

Establishing a routine was one of the most healthy and normal and normal things I did for myself two years ago.

A quick question thrown out to Twitter had three moms in five minutes telling me that routine was incredibly important to their recovery and that they felt great frustration and anxiety when they found themselves out of routine.

Instead of wallowing in the fact that we couldn’t even manage a simple weekend trip away from home without a meltdown (and I did, eventually, melt down once we got in the car—all over Twitter and the #PPDChat mamas!) I am reveling in the fact that routine is a way that I can cope with this illness.

Does this mean that we’ll never veer from our norm? Absolutely not. But it does mean that when there is a need for us to stray from our normal, it’s not the end of the world. Joshua will adjust and so will I and we’ll both be better for having lived and learned through a shared experience.

Though I think I’m the one doing most of the learning right now, and for now, maybe that’s how it should be.

 

Every little thing


I am beyond thrilled to introduce to you the very first regular contributor to My Postpartum Voice. Miranda and I met via Twitter and #PPDChat. She blogs regularly over at Not Super Just Mom in addition to hanging out on Twitter, teaching, being a Mom and a wife. I hope y’all will enjoy reading Miranda’s voice as much as I have. Welcome aboard, Miranda!

I spent the first year of my diagnosis alone and hurting, partly because I was too stubborn to reach out and partly because I didn’t know there were so many people to whom I could reach out. My only two sources of support were my mom and my husband, and neither had much experience in dealing with postpartum. (By “much experience” I mean “none experience.”)

And then I found Twitter. And Twitter brought me people like Lauren. And Lauren has given me the opportunity to help her help you.

Wow.

So here I am, nearly two years out. And the cool thing about this is that PPD/A isn’t a war I’ve lost. If anything, I’d say I’ve pretty well conquered my main demon—anxiety. I have WAY more good days than bad lately. I find myself rolling through toddler tantrums like a seasoned professional, despite the fact that he’s not two yet and the fun hasn’t really even begun (or so I hear).

But the relative goodness of my life right now doesn’t mean that I’m scott-free and that I never have to worry about anxiety. There are setbacks. I still fight battles. And those battles still frustrate me. And if I’m not careful, that frustration leads to nastiness and anger and guilt and ::insert your negative emotions here::.

As I write this, we’re on our first full day of a long-weekend getaway with friends. No internet. No cell phones. No noise. It’s quiet here. Peaceful. Relaxing. Or at least it should be.

We are WAY outside our normal routine, y’all. Way.

And that’s when things get hairy for me.

Joshua fought me on his nap yesterday. We spent the morning traveling, practically throwing Joshua in the car the minute he woke up. We arrived and he explored our cabin and then it was time for a nap. Dan and his friend were gone to the grocery store to get supplies. My friend was upstairs tending to her toddler. And Joshua and I were downstairs in our bedroom with me quickly spiraling into a case of Mama Fail because he wouldn’t settle down and take a nap, despite the fact that we both knew he needed to sleep.

He cried. I put a pillow over my head. He cried harder. I felt my throat clench up. I got up and patted his butt in the pack-n-play. He settled. My throat unclenched. I turned to go back to the bed. He cried again. My spine stiffened and my mind started racing. SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP! Wash. Rinse. Repeat. For nearly 45 minutes. And there was no one here to help me through it. There was just me and Joshua, figuring this out like we’ve done time and time again.

I can’t stand to let Joshua cry. It’s one of my triggers. Colic and reflux made sure that he spent the early months of his life screaming his little baby lungs out. And the early months of his life were, by far, my worst. When he screams, I go into fight or flight mode just like I did two years ago. I get irrational. And cranky. And angry. And hurt.

Why can’t I fix this!? What is wrong with me!? Why does he hate me!? WHY ME??

Do you see what’s wrong with those questions? 

The questions are completely irrational, folks.

I can’t fix anything about this situation unless I never leave my house again or never break our usual, customary routine.

Nothing is wrong with me. I am not broken.

My son does NOT hate me. He’s too little to even know what hate is. And if I have it my way, he won’t know what hate is. It’s certainly not something I plan to teach him.

There is nothing I’ve done or not done to deserve this. Nothing. This is punishment for any wrongdoing in this or any other life I may have lived.

It’s times like this that I have to remind myself that I am a mother. A mother with postpartum anxiety and depression, yes, but a mother. I am not postpartum depression and anxiety first and a mother second.

Yesterday afternoon, I got a sippy of milk and brought Joshua to bed with me. I got him settled down and he eventually flipped over onto his stomach, head on my shoulder, and I sang to him the song I always sing to him when he’s crying.

“Don’t worry…about a thing. ‘Cause every little thing, is gonna be alright.”

And it was.

We napped together, Mama and son, curled up on the same pillow, for two hours. And when we woke up and he smiled, my soul smiled back.

It is.

I know that I have what it takes to cope with setbacks in my progress. I know that setbacks are going to happen. I never expected to just wake up one morning and POOF! no more postpartum. That’s unrealistic. But I also know that everything? Is pretty alright most of the time. And “most of the time” gives me the strength I need for the times when things aren’t okay.

It will be.

This may have been the past two years of my life. This may be my now from time to time. But postpartum is not my forever. It’s not yours either.

Every little thing is going to be alright.

Miranda is a wife, mother, teacher, daughter, friend, and NOT a super mom. At best, and worst, she’s average. But with a cape and tiara? She could probably save the world. She blogs about life as a mom and wife and PPD/A survivor at the blog Not Super…Just Mom.

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