Who’s that girl?


“When you see her, say a prayer and kiss your heart goodbye
She’s trouble, in a word get closer to the fire
Run faster, her laughter burns you up inside
You’re spinning round and round
You can’t get up, you try but you can’t”

 -lyrics, Who’s that Girl, Madonna-

Innocent enough lyrics, right? Of course, given that they’re Madonna lyrics that’s an arguable statement. Yet these lyrics are so very applicable to Postpartum Mood Disorders.

As a mother with Postpartum Mood Disorder, we drag ourselves out of bed in the morning after a lengthy internal argument between “have to, able to, and want to.” We stumble into the bathroom where we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror. Raw. Unkempt. Barely awake. Depressed. Anxious. Angry. Petrified. Unrecognizable. So we hide her. We hide the girl in the mirror behind make-up. Behind a forced smile. We tuck her away in the corners of our mind and pretend to be okay for everyone else.

It works for awhile.

But then the mask begins to crack. Chips fall to the floor. We can’t replace them. The cost is too great. Exhaustion sets in, keeping us from fixing the veneer we have worked so very hard to replace. Our hearts and broken minds spill out into public view. We crumble as the pain of exposure overwhelms us. Frozen with fear we become deer trapped on a country road as vehicles race past us.

Until finally someone stops, gets out, and approaches us with compassion. They hold us and walk us back to ourselves, allowing us to lean on them along the way. As we awake each morning thereafter, the girl in the mirror begins to look a bit more like us. Sure, we still have our raw, unkempt, angry, sad, depressed, exhausted days. But in between those days, we cautiously regain our glow. Our eyes once again transform into a beautiful stained glass window to our soul instead of the broken window to the dark soul of the depression or anxiety which has gripped us for so very long.

But the window to depression or anxiety which exists in our eyes, jutting deep into our souls, will never fully close. It stays open, even if just a centimeter. Each time we falter, fail to live up to our own impossible standards, our mind will scurry to that window to measure the opening, to see if it’s widened. We will check and re-check, not believing original measurements equal to the original. Eventually we walk away somewhat satisfied but never fully believing we are recovered.

Depression and mental illness thrive on doubt. They thrive on suppression, stigma, and questioning of our own abilities whether from others or the internal struggle for sense of self. Even without mental illness, we question ourselves our entire life. Grab onto the positive. Grasp tightly onto balloons of hope when they float by. Marvel at the flame of a beautiful candle when it shines light onto your path. Find your light where you can, when it is offered, and let it flood your world. Don’t hide it behind the darkness in the soul of your depression.

Let go. Allow the light flood into your world until you recognize the girl in the mirror again as beautiful. It’s not that she disappeared. It’s that your perception of her was stolen by Depression, a sly thief. Steal her back.

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

Postpartum Voice of the Week: 02.03.11: Searching for Hope


The following piece is an original story which was submitted for consideration. The author takes you from one of the darkest places she has ever been in to a place in which she offers hope to others. She’s still struggling in the midst of it all but thankfully has hope on her team these days. Without further ado, I give you this week’s Postpartum Voice of the Week:

 

I didn’t have a “mom” growing up. I had no one to teach me right from wrong, no one to talk to, no one to look up to. My mom was physically there, just enough to scrape by with the title of “mom.” When I needed her to get through some of the darkest times of my life, she wasn’t around. I was so miserable having someone who was supposed to be there, but who wasn’t. I had promised myself that I would be the mother to my kids that I never had.

The time came for me to be mom when my first child was born in 2008. I was overjoyed, ecstatic, blessed to have such a title and to give everything I had to this little baby. We welcomed his younger sister into our family in early 2010, and with that, our family was complete. I was ready to raise these children in a family full of love and be the best mom I could possibly be. I was meant to be a mom, it was the only aspiration I ever had.

Having had a difficult childhood myself, I knew the face of depression. I understood feelings of being worthless, hopeless, and simply not good enough. What I didn’t know was that these feelings could accompany the birth of a child. After my daughter was born, things gradually started getting worse. I would become irritable with every cry, angry every time a bottle wouldn’t soothe my crying little one, and just hostile when things weren’t going the way I had planned. Six months had gone by; I had brushed the feelings off my shoulder as if they were “normal.” I had 2 kids under 2, things were supposed to be hectic, right? Running on very little sleep, being needed by two kids simultaneously with only 2 hands was enough to make any mom a little discouraged when things were rough and there was no help in sight.

Six months postpartum, I had noticed I wasn’t getting better. The irritability was at its worst, I had those same feelings of worthlessness that I had once experienced, I had no desire to take care of my kids, I had no desire to even take care of myself at this point. I let all the housework go, I cried at the drop of a hat even when I had no logical reason for crying, I started spending more time in bed, and nothing seemed worth it anymore. I had awful thoughts of leaving my children, my family, and never looking back. I just didn’t want anything. I felt like a failure; I wasn’t even good at what I wanted to be for so long…a mom. My children didn’t deserve me anymore. I kept thinking of my mom, and how there were times I wished she weren’t around-that she weren’t my mom. I didn’t want my kids to grow up wishing I wasn’t their mom or that I wasn’t around because I was a spitting image of my own mother. I thought taking myself out of the equation was the best decision for my family. I whole-heartedly believed someone could do my job better.

No matter how much I wanted to in that moment, I couldn’t ever leave my children. Ever. I knew something was wrong, and I needed help immediately before such irrational thoughts became my reality. I asked my husband to drive me to the hospital, that it was an emergency. He really had no idea what was going on, my feelings were kept to myself because I didn’t want anyone to think bad of me or that I was a bad mom for having such thoughts. After being evaluated for an hour, I wanted to walk right back out the doors I walked in. I was scared; there was no way I belonged there. Seeing other patients walk the halls with their head down, the screams that came from rooms down the hall that warranted a handful of doctors to hurry off, I knew this was a mistake. My anxiety was too much for me to handle at this point. The evaluating nurse asked me many questions that left me with feelings of shame. How could I have such deep, dark feelings when I have two beautiful children at home needing me? Needless to say, I was admitted. There was no turning back, I was there and there was no way out. Although I knew this wasn’t the right place for me, I made the decision to get everything I possibly could out of this hospital stay. I told the numerous psychiatrists and therapists I saw on a daily basis exactly how I felt, why I was there, and let them in on my life (which is something I don’t do until I have full trust in a person). Against medication from the beginning, I openly tried whatever meds they wanted to put me on because I was desperate to get better. I was diagnosed with PPD/PPA/PPOCD. What was that? I had no clue there was such a diagnosis. I was never talked to about this. After nearly a week of being there, I was released…sent on my way. I had the number to a psychiatrist and a therapist whom I was instructed to follow up with. I did just that. The psychiatrist changed my meds completely, and it was only weeks before I started to really see an improvement in my behavior. I’m still working on finding the right combination of meds to keep me stable, and we’ll go from there.

What I can tell you is that I now have hope that things will get better. If someone would have told me something, anything, about PPD ten months ago, I wouldn’t have hit rock bottom before reaching out for help. I wouldn’t have gone through four months of absolute misery thinking of how bad a parent I was and how guilty I felt that I couldn’t take care of my own children. I saw multiple healthcare professionals during my months postpartum- the OBGYN, my family doctor, my children’s doctor, nurses at hospitals when my kids were sick, yet no one ever asked me how I felt emotionally. I was too afraid to bring up my feelings, fearing they would tell me it was all normal and I was worrying too much. I almost took my life because I thought I had ruined not only myself, but my children. I almost walked out on the two most important people in my life because I thought I was crazy. The fear of admitting the awful thoughts I had was bizarre. I believed people would immediately think I was “crazy” or “undeserving” of my children. But I reached out. I took control of my own behavior. I waited too long hoping that someone would help me. I waited too long thinking I would eventually get better on my own. I waited too long to take this illness by the horns and control my own destiny. I wanted to get better so bad for my children, for my family. However, it took me wanting to get better for MYSELF before I had the courage to do so, to reach out and put myself and my feelings out there into the hands of people who have the control and the knowledge to help me. My biggest motivation was the thought of having to live the next day as miserable as the day before. Things needed to change.

These postpartum mood disorders have me in check. Every time a thought passes through my head that I have conquered this beast, I am made aware that I am still on my journey to recovery. I am, by no means, fully recovered from PPD/PPA/PPOCD, but it no longer controls me. I control it.

As awful as this journey has been, I have become a better person because of it. I have learned to cherish every moment with my children, from the sleepless nights to the temper tantrums. I have learned to appreciate things for what they are, rather than what I want them to be. Most importantly, I have learned that even in the late hours of the night, or on my darkest days, I am stronger than I think I am. I can get through the bad things, and things will get better. There is hope, and that’s what keeps me going…

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We are ALL Mother Superiors


According to Wikipedia, a mother superior is an abbess or other nun in charge of a Christian religious order or congregation, a convent or house of women under vows.

She is not defined as a particular ethnicity.

She is not defined by her language.

She is not defined by her skin.

She is, however, defined by her beliefs.

She is defined by her practice of those beliefs.

A Mother Superior is in charge of a household.

She rules the roost. Expects things to run in a particular order. HER order.

HER order may be perfection.

It may be defined by acts.

It may be defined by compassion.

It may be defined by dedication.

It may be defined by achievement.

It may be defined by satisfaction.

It may be defined by mood.

But ultimately, it is HER decision to decide how to rule her roost.

Not the decision of any other Mother Superior. But HERS.

As Mothers, in a home, we are all our own MOTHER SUPERIORS. We rule the roost. We call the shots. We ensure our philosophies, ingrained within us by our own Mother Superiors and HER Mother Superior and her Mother Superior and her Mother Superior and so on, are also ingrained within our offspring. Or not.

In each of our own private Abbeys, we rule.

Our children gather together at schools, at churches, at public events, at parties, play dates, and museums.

Enter the beauty of Chaos.

Our children play together. They learn together. No matter what our practice or beliefs, they play and learn together.

Or not. They play together IF they are allowed to play.

They will grow up to rule their own roosts one day.

Do we want them to grow up to do this as judgmental cynical women?

Do we want to encourage them to judge every move they make by the achievements of others? Should we do this? Should they?

Why is it in our nature to compare ourselves to the Mom down the block? The overachieving Betty Crocker? The PTA Mom who works tireless nights? The ultimate attachment, co-sleeping, EC training, breastfeeding, home birth mom who has done everything perfectly compared to us? Are we ready to send our own daughters helplessly down that same road? Are we?

Do we want them to grow up thinking that they have failed at Motherhood simply because they are the wrong ethnicity, the wrong class, the wrong everything?

Do we want our daughters growing up to think they have failed at Motherhood because all they can manage to put on that day is the same pajamas they have had on for two days?

Or do we want them to realize that a LOT of moms are exactly like that? That life happens. And sometimes? Life is depressing. Sometimes life requires we work harder at it to be successful.

I am not ready to sell my daughters down Keeping Up with the Joneses Lane. Not ready to ship them off to Just Keep Smiling Circle or Snap Out of It Drive.

I’m ready to send them soaring down Robert Frost’s Road in a Yellow Wood – urging them to discover the path not taken and make all the difference in the world. I want them to be Free to be themselves, not the vision I have for them. I want them to amaze me. To blow me away with their own dreams, their own passions, their own realized wisdom and growth. I want them to be happy. Happy and Free.

I want them to know that some of the best things in life don’t require awesome grades. They don’t require the bank account of Donald Trump. I want my children to value life. To value family. To realize that the best things in life cannot be bought. For any price.

I tell my daughters on a consistent basis that they can be anything they want to be IF they work hard enough at it.

I also tell them I will always love them as long as they are working to the fulfill their potential. If they are slacking, yes, I will chide them. But not to the point of derision. Not to the point of sleepless nights. Not to the point of bordering on abuse.

I will love them when they get a B.

I will love them when they decide to skip college.

I will love them.

I will love them because they are my children.

I will love them and hug them and squeeze them forever, successful or not, I will love them with all my heart.

If that makes me a Slacker mom, then so be it.

My kids, I think, are okay with that.

Friday Soother 01.14.11: Tertullian’s Little Red Lamp


“Little Red Lantern” by Martin_Heigan @flickr.com

Hope is patience with the lamp lit.

~Tertullian~

(Find the original Photo here)