The Postpartum Smoke Monster


No, not that one.

While on Twitter last night, I connected with a mom who mentioned something about “smoky rooms.” I replied to her. Those smoky rooms? Surreal. Very surreal.

Until last night though, I had forgotten about them. A remnant of my postpartum experience abandoned in a dark corner.

In the midst of my darkest days, I saw wisps of grey smoke floating through the room. They were always above me, too far to reach. Sometimes there was an overheated electrical scent hanging heavy in the air.

Until last night, the grey smoke wisps were an experience of which I had never spoken.

During the course of my conversation with the first mom, who said close friend of hers also experienced the same phenomenon, yet another mother chimed in, shocked that we were discussing smoke we had seen during our Postpartum experiences. Suddenly we were bonding over smoke. Smoke we had clearly imagined in the midst of our Postpartum Mood Disorders.

It was then that I recalled research which postulated that depressed people are more likely to see everything as gray than non-depressed people.

Then there is the reference of recovery feeling as if “the fog has lifted.” What if the fog really does lift? What if we really are surrounded by fog when struggling with depression?

Did you experience this? What did the fog look like for you? You’re not alone out there in the fog or smoke. There are others who have been there too.

Just Talkin’ Tuesday 11.17.09: When did your fog lift?


base photo credit "water droplet with fall reflection" by mahalie @ flickr

All the cliches you hear about not being happy are profoundly true. The grass is a dull shade of green – khaki almost, for me at least. The trees filled with sorrow, the birds didn’t chirp as cheerily, the leaves waved as if mourning, the air filled with the weight of the entire world as the clouds swooped down and swarmed around my mind, fogging my vision of anything in front of me. My grandfather called those infamous fogs “pea souppers.”

I remember the day my Pea Soupper existance finally lifted. It was a bright spring day. The trees stood ready to burst forth brand new leaves still wrapped tightly in buds, rain had rushed through – not drenched us but rather left just enough behind for everything to sparkle a bit. I can still smell the rain of that day if I close my eyes and think long enough. THIS is the day I want to hold close to my heart forever when I think of my PPD.

Sure, I remember the bad stuff. I remember the cold sleep room where I first checked out. I remember all too well the smell of the soap from the NICU. I remember the cold hard plastic and mechanical whirring of my breast pump, the flat pillow at the psych ward. But when I think of my PPD, I want to remember that spring day. The day that not only Mother Nature birthed yet another child of spring but I found myself reborn as a complete person – myself and motherhood all rolled into one – ready to take on the very world which waited at my feet. Had it still been raining I may have pulled over and danced a little jig.

So tell us – when did your fog lift?

Let’s get to just talkin’.

 

A Closer Look at Charlotte Perkins Gilman


Charlotte Perkins Gilman

 

Why write about Charlotte Perkins Gilman at a blog about Postpartum Depression you might ask. She suffered a near nervous breakdown after the birth of her first child, leading her to author The Yellow Wallpaper, an intense short story about a woman’s treatment during a nervous breakdown, a story that one led a Boston Physician to state in The Transcript that “Such a story ought not to be written, he said; it was enough to drive anyone mad to read it.” Possibly so, but a physician from Kansas also wrote that “it was the best description of incipient insanity he had ever seen, and–begging my pardon–had I been there?” (Perkins Gilman)

Sadly, her nervous breakdown led to divorce and leaving her daughter in the custody of her ex-husband. Turning to writing as a way of earning money,  Gilman eventually found herself as a spokesperson regarding “women’s perspectives on work and family.” Perkins Gilman believed that men and women should share household duties and particularly that women should be taught to be economically independent from a very early age (DeGrazia, Jodi), a topic she focused on in her work, Women and Economics, penned in 1898.

The Yellow Wallpaper has been a favorite story of mine since first read, love at first words. I identified with the main character well before experiencing motherhood and my own brush with insanity shortly thereafter. Perkins Gilman did an exquisite job of breathing a realistic insanity into her main character as well as exposing the mental health diagnoses and “cures” of the day for what they truly were – sadly insufficient and ignorant of treating the illness and instead closeting away those who suffered in hopes of recovery or at least not be part of mainstream society and  therefore remain to be a “figment” of one’s imagination, the dark family secret.

In 1887, Perkins Gilman sought treatment for continuous nervous breakdown from the best kThe Yellow Wallpapernown nervous specialist in the country. The rest cure applied and she responded well physically; however, the physician then declared all was well; sending her home with “solemn advice to ‘live as domestic a life as far as possible,’ to ‘have but two hours’ intellectual life a day,’ and ‘never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again’ ” for the remainder of her days. Gilman then writes regarding the effectiveness of this advice, saying “I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over.” (Perkins Gilman)

Engaging the help of a close friend and gathering what strength she had left, Perkins Gilman picked up her artistic work again and began to recover, finding strength within her work and “ultimately recovering some measure of power.” This experience is what led her to write The Yellow Wallpaper. Perkins Gilman admits to embellishments, stating she “never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations”. Written as a celebration of return to her success, her true motivation behind sharing her story, albeit in a fictional world, lay within the hope of saving others from her fate of mistreatment and the nearly paralyzing insanity following soon after.

In Perkin Gilman’s own words regarding her authorship of The Yellow Wallpaper, she states:

It has, to my knowledge, saved one woman from a similar fate–so terrifying her family that they let her out into normal activity and she recovered.

 But the best result is this. Many years later I was told that the great specialist had admitted to friends of his that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading The Yellow Wallpaper.

 It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.

The number one reason I hear when women have chosen to share their experience with a Postpartum Mood Disorder is the hope that it will provide comfort to another as she travels down the same road. It is with the same spirit Perkins Gilman penned The Yellow Wallpaper that I share my story. Recovery is a hard road and sometimes a lonely road. I said from the very beginning of reaching out to others with a helping hand that if I could help even one woman, it would all be worth it.

The screaming, the agony, the tears, the lifting of the fog – it would all begin to somehow make sense and instead of continuing to drag me down, it would lift me up. The fog did not begin to lift until I reached out for help and found it – drenching myself in the stories of others who had been where I no longer wanted to be and read with new understanding and an intensity I had never known before just how they were able to escape the depths of depression and reach the light, breathing in sweet fresh air again.

Determined to shine a light on the path for those behind me and around me, I dove full force into sharing my story. Every time I shared my experiences with a woman who believed she had no hope left and found herself ashamed of her condition and witnessed what an impact my openness and vulnerability had on her, I knew supporting Mothers was my calling.

So I write about Charlotte Perkins Gilman in order to better explain my mission here at this blog and in life. I refuse to let another woman suffer alone and in silence. Not on my watch.