Tag Archives: mental illness

Stigma Fighters

2 Jul

I’m thrilled to be a guest over at Stigma Fighters today, writing about how stigma continues to affect me, even 5 years post-diagnosis.

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I’d like to say I’m immune from stigma. After 3 years of blogging about mental health, and 2 years as an advocate, you’d think I’d be able to shake the shame surrounding my diagnoses of postpartum anxiety (and postpartum depression, antenatal depression, postpartum OCD, and generalized anxiety disorder) with ease. And from the outside, it must seem that I do.

I speak freely about my experiences with friends and family. I’ve hosted public events, fundraising and educating my local communities. I write for Postpartum Progress, the most widely-read blog on maternal mood and anxiety disorders. And I’m helping organize and direct an entire conference dedicated to those Warrior Moms who have survived from them.

But what you probably don’t see? Is that when I speak in person about my mental illness, I measure my words carefully, making note of my audience and surroundings before I ever open my mouth. I watch the face of my conversation partner for signs of disgust disguised as pity, and I find myself wondering at times if that mom from playgroup doesn’t ever drop her kid off to play because “she’s afraid I might go cray-zee.”

You see, the only stigma I’m immune to is the one I hold against myself…

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To read the rest of the story (you know you want to!) please head on over and say hello at Stigma Fighters.  The work Sarah is doing to raise awareness and change the way the world views mental illness is so important.

Stigma Fighters

#DayofLight

5 Feb

Day Of Light

I’m joining the blogging community today to shed light on something many of us keep tucked in the dark. If you’re like me, you experienced it without knowing, assuming that all people lived their lives on an emotional roller coaster, destined, once on top, to roll back to the bottom. Always to the bottom.  For me, it began in college.

At first, it was an added exhaustion, no matter how late the morning classes or how early the bedtime.  In trickled the self-doubt, followed by amateur apathy.  I was too busy to not tend to the activities I loved, but I had ceased to look forward to the orchestra rehearsals and coffee dates.  Last to enter was the emptiness.  Not sadness, exactly, but an inability to feel anything: joy, fear, sadness, love.  The feelings I had for people in my life I knew I loved were shrouded in a fog and out of reach.  I began to doubt I ever loved them at all.  The only emotion that cut through the depression, sharp as a knife, was anger and irritability.  The most insignificant things annoyed me to the point of rage: ice trays left empty, people late for appointments, unreasonable homework assignments.  I look back now and wonder if I didn’t cover the sadness with that anger, afraid of what it might mean to let myself experience the pain of feeling worthless.

All this, and I had no idea anything was wrong with me, or if I did have a suspicion, the denial hid it cleverly with its stories of stigma, perfectionist excuses, and lack of self care.  It took 8 years, the birth of my daughter, and a battle with postpartum depression before I realized I had been suffering from depressive episodes and anxiety for much of my life.

I believe if depression and other mood and anxiety disorders were talked about as openly as cancer and heart disease, patients would have the information they need to identify their struggles as symptoms and to seek help.  I believe that if treating those disorders was not shaded in stigma, that people like me would find that they can get better – that there is hope.

I am living proof that you can survive depression and anxiety.  I am proof that good great people can struggle with mental illness.  And I am proof that you can be open about your mental health and still have people think you are amazing.

Because, guess what?  You are.

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I’m joining Mama Knows It AllPushing Lovely and Say It Rah-shay, along with a multitude of other wonderful bloggers today for #DayOfLight.  Please won’t you join me?

From Say It Rah-shay:
#DayOfLight was created to shine a light on depression, and share resources for those who are struggling with the mental illness. Bloggers from all over the country are collaborating on Wednesday, February 5th to flood social media with personal stories about living with depression, and accurate information on managing and living with the mental illness.

How Can You Participate?

  • Write a blog post sharing your personal experience of depression and/or share resources to help others. Add the #DayOfLight hashtag in your post title.
  • Watch the #DayOfLight Google Hangout on Wednesday, February 5th at 11 AM EST. Tweet and ask questions.
  • Participate in the #DayOfLight twitter chat on Wednesday, February 5th at 9 PM EST. Follow @PushingLovely@NotoriousSpinks, and@BrandiJeter for more information)
  • Turn your social media avatars black and white on Wednesday, February 5th so we can visually represent all of those affected by depression.
  • Share inspiring tweets, posts, and photos on social media to encourage those who are suffering with depression to let them know that they are not alone. Use the hashtag #DayOfLight

 

This Is My Brave

17 Dec

Have you heard about This Is My Brave the show?  Jennifer Marshall’s (from Bipolar Mom Life) kickstarter raised over $10,000 and the show is scheduled for May 2014!  It will be an amazing opportunity for people with mental illness to speak out, tell their stories, and decrease stigma.

From the This Is My Brave website:

I believe in the power of community. There’s strength found in people coming together to propel a movement forward. Which is why I created the show.

 “BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD” -Gandhi

This Is My Brave will function as a platform for people with something positive to say about living with ‪mental illness. It’s time we bring mental health issues into the spotlight because they’ve been in the dark too long. This is an effort to encourage people to be brave and to stand up and talk about mental illness.

I envision the show will include readings of personal essays, original music performances and also poetry. Everyone has a story and I’m positive there will be incredible tales of inspiration and hope shared through this mental health theater production.

Auditions will be held in February of 2014 (only 5 months from now!). Follow the show website for details as they emerge.

The show will debut May 18th, 2014 in Arlington, Virginia which is right outside of Washington, DC.

I’m writing about courage over at the show’s blog today.  I hope you’ll head over and support this amazing venture!

Depression and Anxiety Resources

17 Nov

I’m updating my page about postpartum depression and anxiety with a series of my favorite Learned Happiness posts. My journey to health is not unlike many others in the PPD community and yet it has its own subtle nuances and my story is, of course, my own.

I’ve pieced together my journey from the depths of postpartum depression and anxiety to the amazing place I find myself today – one of balance and mental health instead of mental illness. I will always struggle with anxiety and the depression it brings with it, but it is a part of my life instead of the entirety of it.

Learned Happiness – My original piece on how my depression created a cycle of learned helplessness and how I hope to break that cycle with this blog.
Therapy – A post about how my attitude toward therapy changed during my treatment and why I believe it’s so important.
Lows – Two steps forward and one step back.  Despite healing after my first bout with PPD, I found the lows returning and challenged them with all the self-care and depression tools I had.
Health Activists Writer’s Monthly Challenge – The WEGO Health HAWMC post about what my anxiety is and feels like.
Because I Can – Why I write about mental health.
Mother’s Day Rally – The first time Katherine invited me to write for Postpartum Progress and I went all fangirl and freaked out.  You must read all the Mother’s Day Rally for Mental Health Letters to New Moms.  They are inspiring.
Antental Depression Part One – I was seven weeks pregnant with Bean when I began having intrusive thoughts and felt my world collapsing around me.
Antental Depression Part Two – Thank you to Postpartum Progress, the Mother’s Day Rally Letters, and Marlene Freeman at MGH.  This is where my life began to truly turn around.
Rainy Day Letter – Yael Saar was kind enough to host me at PPD To Joy.  This is part of her Rainy Day Letter series.  The other letters?  Worth sitting down with.  Bring some kleenex.
A Rough Couple of Weeks – On increasing medication mid-pregnancy and all the feelings that come with it.
Dog Tired – On my pregnancy progress.  Evidence that with the right medication and therapy, a second pregnancy can be joyful.
Invisible Wounds – Anxiety and depression are “invisible” to the outside world, but they are very real illnesses.
Ready – Feeling ready for the second baby, prepared for possible PPD, and supported by my IRL and online army.
Warning Signs – A post informing my friends and family what to look for after my second baby was born, written just before her arrival.  My PPD went unnoticed the first time around.  I believe the key to my health the second time around was being upfront and honest with my support network about what to look for and how to help me.
Happy Birthday – The joyful arrival of Bean.
Expectations – How lowering my expectations postpartum helped me stay mentally healthy after my second baby was born.
Panic Attack – The panic attack nine weeks postpartum that had me waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Time Capsule – A HAWMC prompt post about what would be in my PPD time capsule.
When We Know Better… – A HAWMC prompt with my favorite quote.  How does knowing better the second time around translate into a better postpartum experience?
Self Care – Another HAWMC prompt about why I write about mental health.  Hint:  It’s mostly for me.
Persistence – My favorite post of all time.  Inspired by a tree.  Yes, a tree.
Haiku – I wrote terrible haikus about mental health.  Seriously terrible.  But the links to Sweetly Voiced’s diabetes haikus are worth the click!
Tweet, tweet. Boom. – One silly conversation with my husband.  That’s all it took to tell me I was really on the way to being well.
Mother’s Day – “To love her more than I feared her.”  That Mother’s Day I had all I really wanted.
Anything – Five months postpartum, the anxiety and obesessive thoughts returned.
PPD, the Second Time Around – On feeling hopeful and full of joy despite the return of my postpartum anxiety.
Giving Up Control - Why does everything mental health-related for me end up being about my childhood?  On seeking out a reason for my anxiety and how that helped me put it in its place.
PPD and Marriage – PPD rocked my marriage.  Hard.  My husband was hurt just as I was.
I Need Your Help – My post for Strong Start Day 2012 in which I admit to intrusive thoughts about falling down the stairs.
When Birthdays Aren’t So Happy – Dealing with the joy of my oldest daughter’s 4th birthday and the trauma of the anniversary of my PPD onset.
Breastfeeding on Psychotropic Medication – Why I choose to breastfeed while medicated for depression and anxiety, with special care to support women no matter how they feed their babies.
Not For Weak Stomachs – A horrid month of health issues, which I dealt with without any mental health complications.  This was a huge week for me, realizing that my mental illness was well-controlled enough to allow me to deal with crises calmly.  Also?  I was carried down the stairs by a team of firemen while wearing only my underwear.  Good times.
So You Think I Shouldn’t Have Had Children – My response to Anderson Cooper’s piece about the “trend” of mothers taking antidepressants and the horrid FB comments on his fan page in response to the story.
Don’t Call Them “Happy Pills” – On medication and stigma and a primer on how my antidepressant and anti-anxiety pills work.
I Am Not Okay (But I Will Be) – My low days and irritability may periodically return, but armed with therapy, medication, and support, they are short-lived.
Talking Climb Out of the Darkness With My Daughter – Doodlebug and I made a video about postpartum depression and why we were hiking in 2013.
A Tale of Five Medications (Or Don’t Lose Hope) – All about my medication journey, why it is so hard to find the right medication formula and how stigma kept me from being treated for much too long.

And that bring us to today.  A day where I am healthy enough to be an advocate with thirty-something posts on mental illness.  Which honestly?  Is humbling.

I’ll be adding them to the resource page and updating my sidebar this week with my favorite blogs about mental health.  The more we talk about this, the more people we help.  I’m proud to be a part of that.

On Friendship

16 Oct

I have kept in touch with very few friends from my childhood days.  I mean, there are tons of them on Facebook, which roots me to those early elementary day.  It’s wonderful to visit with people who knew me before my days as a mom.  They share my memories of Mrs. Reagan’s 1st grade classroom being decorated in bears, the Jamaican US history teacher from middle school, and of being hollered at by Mr. Logan on the marching field for missing a mark on the 5 yard line. They remind me of who I am deep down inside.

But there are not many folks who I’ve seen in person, exchange birthday mail with, or talk on the phone with from those “olden days.”  I think as you grow up (and move across the country), it gets harder to stay connected to the people who aren’t in your everyday life.  The internet has made it easier to check in, but has also decreased the depth of our interactions.

There are, however a few people who seem to have “made the cut.”  I just can’t quit them.  Whether we talk weekly or only occasionally, when we do, we pick up right where we left off.  They are the people I can be vulnerable with.  Soul sisters.

Melissa and I attended high school together.  Because she was in choir and I was in band, we ran in different social circles.  We actually weren’t that close in those days, but we had classes together and both belonged to the “nerd” crowd, sitting together in our GT AP English class making snarky comments about the long-term substitute.  And if I’m being honest, I always thought she was too cool for me.  Too smart.  My respect for her was built on my admiration for her talents and her apparent ease with friends.   And her writing.  Oh, her writing.

As adults, she and her kids have visited several times.  She flew up from Texas for my oldest’s second birthday.  When DH and I traveled to Las Vegas a few years back, we met up with her husband for a hilarious visit to the wax museum.  Our times together are easy and our friendship is built on a mutual respect and girl crush.  I truly love any time we get to spend together.

And though we trained for different careers and settled down across the country from one another, our lives have become curiously parallel.  We’ve both found ourselves non-religous after extended periods of belief earlier in our lives.  We’re music educators with private studios who understand the excitement inherent in planning and executing the perfect recital.  And all of a sudden, Melissa and I stumbled into roles as health advocates.

Diabetes and depression don’t seem at first glance to be similar health complications, but as it turns out, Melissa’s pancreas and my brain have impacted our lives in similar ways.  She understands deeply how stigma shapes my experience with mental illness and the guilt I battle about how my health affects my children.  My conversations with her about how she manages her diabetes without allowing it to run her life have contributed more than she knows to my ability to make peace with taking medication for my anxiety and depression.  And we’ve both found how online communities can completely change how a patient copes with a life-long diagnosis.  Her work as an advocate in the diabetes community inspires my work within the PPD community and on my blog.

She’s the kind of friend who listens with her whole heart.  She builds me up without letting me get away with anything.  She celebrates my successes and mourns with me when I struggle.  Her friendship drives me to be a better person while at the same time validating my inherent self-worth and value.

I don’t know where I would be in my journey to self-acceptance and PPD recovery without her.

Melissa, I love you.  So very much.  Thank you for being my friend and for all you have brought to my life.

Oh, and Happy Birthday.

So You Think I Shouldn’t Have Had Children

18 Mar

I’m an optimist.  Optimistic about situations but mostly about people.  I believe people are good.  I believe we are are more alike than different.  And I believe in the power of communication and connection.

So when I saw this tweet from Anderson Cooper’s @andersonlive two weeks ago, I hoped for the best.

ALParenting Tweet

The tweet was intended to foster controversy, but surely the general public doesn’t believe that moms are taking medications because it is “trendy.”  My twitter tribe took to their computers and responded in force.

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 5.26.47 PM Andrea Tweet

And then just when I was beginning to think that people would understand that mothers are treating their illnesses, I made the mistake of visiting the comments on the Anderson Live FaceBook page.

FaceBook Screenshots Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 5.34.38 PM Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 5.34.14 PM

The PPD Blogger community responded in force there, too, with thousands of words about stigma, motherhood, and mental health.  And there *were* comments that reasonably placed the responsibility to determine who genuinely needs medication on the shoulders of the medical community.  But I was shocked at the large percentage of folks who believe that people suffering from mental illness just shouldn’t have children.

These folks believe that mental illness is a character flaw and possibly a death sentence – they believe that because I take medication for anxiety, I shouldn’t have had children.  Because I am an optimist, I choose to think they are just uneducated, products of a culture awash in stigma and misinformation.  I hope that with exposure to education and to individuals who thrive (yes, even as parents) despite their diagnosis of “mentally ill,” they might change their minds.

But if not – if they still believe that the mentally ill shouldn’t procreate because of a perceived burden on unborn children and society in general, let me ask this:

If an ideal life is the criteria on which a person’s right to reproduce is to be based, who among us would ever have children?

Would these same dissenters tell a paraplegic to refrain from starting a family because of the difficulties the children may encounter being raised by a parent with some special needs?  Should my diabetic friend and advocate Melissa have not had children because her disease puts her at risk of disorienting low blood sugars?  What about a parent suffering from a genetic disorder that may be passed onto their child?  

I am just like any other person treating a medical condition. Make no mistake.  Though they are invisible, my anxiety, PPD, and PPOCD are (or were) medical conditions.   20% of the US population suffers from mental illness, with the average age for onset of symptoms being 30.  That’s one in five.  Your neighbors.  Your sisters and brothers.  Your friends.  And quite possibly your parents.

If you are a mother with a mood or anxiety disorder, I want you to hear that those trolls above?  They are wrong.  I know you.  I know how hard you work to keep yourself healthy and happy.  I know that despite your mood swings, you are a loving parent who lights up your child’s life.  And though you may need the assistance of medication and therapy to combat your anxiety, you bring to their world your talents, your strengths, and there is no better parent for them.

Don’t let the ignorance of a few Facebook comments cloak you in shame.  We are all flawed.  It’s what makes us beautiful and real.  As people and as parents.

Not For Weak Stomachs

10 Dec

It’s been a hard month or so here.

Six weeks ago I tripped over the preschooler and tweaked my back while keeping myself from falling or dropping the baby.  The following day, I walked into my bedroom after bathing the kids and collapsed on the floor in agony.  My L4 disc blew.  Again.  For the third time in 2 years.  My screams terrified the baby while I begged my husband to call my mother and then an ambulance, in that order.  Within three minutes, the room filled with firemen and a medic was pressing his knee into my back to ease the tremors that the shock were causing.  They rolled me onto a frigid metal board and carried me down a flight of stairs and the stone steps leading from my front door before loading me and my exposed nursing bra into the ambulance.  I refused any pain medication on the ride, not knowing what was compatible with breastfeeding.  The medic called me “one tough cookie” upon our arrival at the ER.  One IV of morphine later, the pain subsided and I was both high as a kite and severely nauseous.  I spent a week in a haze of codeine and bed rest, only to suffer a seven-day regimen of oral steroids that brought on a severe (but temporary) depression.

Four weeks ago, I contracted what I can only describe as officially the world’s worst cold.  Not quite the flu.  More than a cold.  Body aches, fever, congestion, fire throat, zombie brain, and finally a hacking cough.  It’s still not completely gone.

Eight days ago, I woke up at 1am with my heart racing, almost jumping out of my chest.  My first thought was a random panic attack and I wondered where my Ativan was.  Then the vomiting began.  And continued every ten minutes for three straight hours.  The heart palpitations only increased and between my fatigue and signs of dehydration, I graced the ER with my presence once again.  The male nurse who placed my IV tossed each vial of blood he took for tests onto the bed as if it was the bane of his existence.  I have never had such a painful needle stick.  And yet I could kiss him for bringing me the Zofran.  And though the nausea ended early in the morning, the following day’s fever, body aches, and fatigue had no magic cure.  It took until Saturday – seven days – before I felt like myself again.

Six days ago, my mother took the preschooler overnight so DH and I could focus on my recuperation.  DH took some Tums in an attempt to cure his indigestion and I prepared for the worst.  At 10:01pm, I watched on the video monitor as the baby threw up over the side of her crib.  There is nothing worse than the sound of a baby attempting to cry in-between dry heaves.  I started nursing her in-between bouts of nausea just so she wouldn’t have an empty stomach.  We snuggled in the guest bed until morning, when her nausea subsided and her body relaxed into a deep sleep.

Three days ago, we packed everyone up and drove 40 minutes north to my parents’ home.  It’s not easy for me to ask for help, but DH was still on the mend, the baby needed my constant attention, and the television is incapable of providing my preschooler with any babysitting care other than distraction.  They were, as they always are, amazingly helpful and I started to think we were out of the woods.

Two days ago, No1 woke up at 5am and was sick every 30 minutes for six hours.  After the first hour, she began fighting the illness, insisting she was fine and wrestling with anyone who tried to help her.  She seemed to bounce back the quickest and yet this evening brought a relapse, complete with fever and nausea.

Yesterday, we left my parents sitting on the couch with saltine crackers.

And today, my preschooler threw up in the parking lot of my psychiatrist’s office on my $300 Clarks riding boots.  The fear in her eyes brought me to my knees beside the car and I held her through all three fits of coughing.

But when my psychiatrist asked me how I’ve been the last three months, I was honestly able to answer, “normal.”  I’ve been overwhelmed.  Stressed.  Short-tempered.  Exhausted.  And in desperate need of some intensive self-care.  But I think my reactions in every situation were typical.  And though not ideal, typical is a pretty great place to be if you struggle with mental illness.

I’d like to think it can only get better from here.  Knock on some wood with me, will ya?

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