#PPDChat Topic: 2.24.14: Sharing Your Story With Family


ppdchat-02-24-14

Remember last night’s post? Today’s chat will deal with the same topic. We’ll be discussing tips, resources, and sharing how this decision affected our recovery. Look forward to seeing you there at 830pm ET!

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!

 

On Walking Through Life as a Postpartum Mood Disorder Survivor


I had a very interesting discussion yesterday as part of an interview with a woman who is putting together a proposal for a book about Perinatal Mood Disorders. Both of us struggled with PP OCD and for the first time, I think we nailed it when we discussed how Postpartum becomes part of your life, even after the initial “crisis” phase passes.

You see, struggling with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder affects your entire life. It affects how you function, how you relate to everyone and everything around you, and it ultimately changes your outlook on life. This change, this transformation, at least for me, is directly related to know just how far down I slid when it struck me from out of the blue the first time around.

Diagnosis is one of the first steps toward healing. Diagnosis leads you to help and regaining your footing on the proper path. We all walk different paths and for some of us, our diagnosis becomes our mask. For others, it becomes just one part of us. Or for others, it becomes the very definition of who we are as a person, a mother, and whatever else we are…some become the personification of a PMAD. One of the things we hit on is how women who do not define themselves completely as their diagnosis find it easier to heal because for them, it’s essentially a broken leg instead of a full body cast if that makes sense. It doesn’t take as long to heal just one part vs. the whole thing. Even then, there are always mitigating factors affecting the pace of individual healing.

When you fight back, you develop coping mechanisms to pull yourself through. These look different for everyone and depend on how defined you allow your sense of self to be by the diagnosis of a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder. It is also important to note that these coping mechanisms may continue to be part of your life for the remainder of your days. It takes 21 days to develop a new habit. Therefore, it makes sense that if you continue something for longer than 21 days, it will become a habit. Whether this habit is healthy or not is up to you and your physician to decide. If it’s minor, no worries. But if it affects your normal day-to-day functioning, it might be time to evaluate things and consider breaking this “habit” as it isn’t healthy.

Do I still carry some of my OCD habits with me from my Postpartum days? Absolutely. But I know they are not a sign that I am still fighting the beast. They are there because they were a part of who I was for a very long time. There are still signals that speak to me and let me know that I am spiraling down the dark path once again, however. My habits tend to increase and begin to interfere with my day to day living when this happens. For instance, I will obsessively brush my hair, stop listening to music, and start looking for things to be upset about if I start to feel overly stressed. Learning to recognize these is a huge leap forward and learning to accept that little quirks you developed with Postpartum are just that, quirks, is also a huge leap forward.

Today was a huge milestone for me. I cleaned and organized the entire first floor of our town house because it needed it, not because I needed to do it. Yes, the clutter was bugging me but not to the point that it made me twitchy. To clean and not “need” to clean felt fantastic. In fact, I’m sitting here, basking more in the accomplishment of having cleaned NOT because of my OCD and because it needed it than in the fact that the downstairs (including the front closet) is completely spotless.

Our habits stay with us after Postpartum because we have immersed ourselves in them for so long as a coping mechanism. Sometimes we have thoughts that carry us back to those dark days and it is important to recognize them as such – just thoughts, not an actual fall back into the dark hole (unless they persist for more than a week or two – then you may want to seek help). Some of us may move on to a deeper, lifelong diagnosis of a daily fight against mental health. But the thing to remember is that you are YOU. You are not your diagnosis, you are not your habits. You are YOU and YOU are amazing, even when it is darkest.

On Stealing Joy


(There is a brief, non-graphic reference to suicide in this post. If you are sensitive or thinking about suicide, please consider avoiding. Also, if you are considering suicide, know that there is help available, you are not alone. Call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to be connected to a crisis center near you or visit their website by clicking here. Please do not suffer in silence when help is just a click or a phone call away.)

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Peter Pan and the Lost Boys symbolize the importance of never completely growing up despite a society which constantly tells us and expects the opposite of us. There are dreamers among us who manage to hang on to the childlike wonder and awe of all that occurs within our paltry world. Then there are those who prefer we be nothing but straight laced, dry, and act our age, the haughty people who believe life is meant to be lived according to a rule book instead of according to our hearts and souls.

Dead Poets Society captures the very essence of this battle.

Robert Sean Leonard is brilliantly cast as Neil, an artistic soul desperately trapped in a straight-laced life by his father. In fact, the opening scenes foreshadow the weight Neil’s father holds over him when he is forced to quit the school annual after a discussion Neil’s father has with one of the headmasters. Neil quits the annual because as he puts it, “What choice do I have?”

Yet, after meeting Mr. Keating, who dares his classes to do more, to be more, and to ultimately walk to the beat of a different drummer, Neil finds his soul set ablaze. He spearheads the resuscitation of the Dead Poets Society meetings at Welton Academy. He takes his artistic defiance a step further when he auditions for a role in a local theatre’s production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. This time, instead of worrying about his father’s reaction, he pens a note of permission from his father on the typewriter in his room. Neil is growing, walking to the beat of a different drum, and daring to be his own man. He is embracing the spirit of carpe diem.

Why the change of heart? Is it really Mr. Keating or is it simply that Neil has given himself permission to be who he is finally because for the first time, he has been exposed to someone who says it okay to do so?

Neil’s father predictably discovers his son’s deception and calls him on it the day the play is set to open. His father attends the play, dragging him home afterward. There’s a discussion during which Neil is firmly told he will not be returning to Welton but will instead be attending a military academy. That’s all there is to it, he’s told. The family goes to bed, the father putting his things in their places before he lays down under the covers.

Then, the scene.

It’s a chillingly well done scene, actually, one which draws you into Neil’s mind and the process of suicide one goes through. Each movement, each act, very deliberate. It is this scene during which Neil lets go of his inner child forever, now that he sees only a future ahead of him filled with stuffed shirts, windows of opportunity and doors leading to open fields of passion slamming shut all around him. This life, the one without his inner child, it is not for him, and therefore, he must leave this world.

You see, when we take away the choices a person has, we take away their independence. We steal the very essence of their being, their joy. In a sense, we jack open their mouths and yank their inner child right out when we force someone to conform to a certain methodology of being. If we were all meant to be exactly alike, we would not have originated anywhere other than a factory. Instead, we sprout up all over the world in all sorts of environments, even the most impossible ones.

Our lives are meant to be lived despite our environments. We choose to thrive, we choose to fail. We choose to grow up or remain children. We choose joy, we choose sorrow. We choose to wallow and ruminate or do what we can and let go. Are these easy choices? Hell no. Are they possible choices? Hell yes.

Life is a choice. Thriving, a choice. Stretching yourself way beyond your comfort zone – a choice. Our overall path may not be a choice, but the steps we take along it are our choices to make. We can choose to trod along the muddy road or skip in the rain, stopping to jump in the puddles, giggling as we are covered head to toe in the slimy brown dirt.

What will you choose today? Will you choose to harrumph, put up your umbrella and frown angrily at the gathering clouds?

Or will you pull a Gene Kelly and go singing and dancing in the rain?

What Does Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem Have to Do With Mental Health?


In 1931, Kurt Gödel, a brilliant mathematician, gained quite a bit of fame with his “Incompleteness Theorem.” What Gödel stated was the following (in non-technical terms thanks to a Wikipedia article):

Any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete. In particular, for any consistent, effectively generated formal theory that proves certain basic arithmetic truths, there is an arithmetical statement that is true,[1] but not provable in the theory (Kleene 1967, p. 250).

Reading this, although directly applicable to mathematics, hit home as an analogy for mental health care and the quest for successful treatment of our conditions as patients.

The equation in our case, at its simplest expression is expressed as such:

whereas P = patient, D = Doctor, C = condition, and T = treatment. But we know all too well that it is not this simple, don’t we? No treatments for mental health are fully consistent nor are they anywhere near complete.

There are too many factors involved to arrive at a simple treatment for the more complex mental health problems. Too many unknowns or additional variables. These variables come in the form of emotional/situational issues with the patient, education/knowledge of the presenting symptoms by the doctor, the symptoms presented by the patient, and the available known data regarding the various symptom sets related to the potential condition diagnoses which is again, limited by the presenting patient and comprehension of said presentation by the attending physician. Therefore, with this equation, we have an infinite amount of possibilities which is essentially what Gödel’s theorem states – that there is an infinite amount of true possible answers but none of them are absolutely provable.

If we take this theory, this Gödel theorem of Incompleteness, we significantly address the reasoning behind the continuing stigma of treatment for mental health in the world today. For instance, let’s address cancer. Most cancers respond to radiation and various forms of chemotherapy, right? Granted, we still lose people to cancer but there is an accepted manner of treatment and no one seems to question that course. It is assumed if one is diagnosed with cancer, he or she will receive some form of radiation or chemotherapy to combat the disease within.

If one is struggling mentally, we hear everything from “suck it up” to “take the natural approach” to “go exercise more” to “take a pill” to “every kind of therapy under the sun” to “eat more chocolate” to “happy light” to “color therapy” to “hospitalization” to…. you get my point. I could keep going for quite some time. There is a sea of possibilities to treat the many various forms of mental health issues which have plagued mankind since the dawn of time.

Even the ancient Greek scholars studied these disorders of the mind and out of these studies, they developed equations which helped them further gain insight into the functioning of the brain we have today. Now, they may have referred to mental imbalance as “black bile” but they were aware that when the mind and body were not connected and in balance, there was something very awry in the state of man. For the Greeks, mental well-being was very closely associated with the health of the body which is why good health was important. As a group of voracious scholars, to be off balance was to fail to be the essence of what their very society represented.

Back to the equation at hand, however. While scholars today struggle to continue to understand the inner workings of the human mind and thereby the issues which cause mental disharmony, we are left with this Incomplete Theorem of care to combat the imbalance inside us.

Gödel’s Theorem in the application of mental health may seem hopeless in the face of stigma because it does not narrow down the understanding of the range of issues so many of us face but there is a silver lining. With the infinite possibilities available for care and those possibilities increasing in effectiveness every day, we are able to fine-tune the available treatments for each patient, thereby increasing the potential for a successful outcome, even if it is just one case at a time.

I am reminded at this time of the story of the hare and the turtle. The hare zooms off past the great oak tree at the top of the hill the beginning of the race while the turtle meanders along the dusty road because well, that’s what turtles do. The hare, winded halfway through the race, stopped to nestle himself among some clover for a quick rest, only to discover the turtle crossed the finish line while he slept. As those around us continue to sleep through the reality that is the challenge of mental health issues, unaware of the battle we fight every second of the day, it is up to those of us who are awake and trudging forward to bring them to the finish line and show them that we are capable of getting there too.

An infinite but unprovable amount of solutions is not a bad thing for us – in fact, it is a rainbow of hope shining across an otherwise dark and stormy sky. Don’t let it go.