Tag Archives: stigma

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

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.

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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.

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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.

Please Read Me!

7 Apr

My stats are down.  Way down.

When I wrote earlier in the week that I’m writing for me, I meant it.  This is my place to think and process what’s going on in my life – mostly in my head.  So though I *will* admit that it’s awesome to check in and find I’ve gotten over a hundred hits in a day, I don’t need stats to make this worth it for me.

Usually I can count on at least 50-60 hits on a day when I post something new.  Most of those link from Facebook, where my friends and family keep tabs on me.  My biggest days?  The post after No2 was born, and my post entitled “Breast is Best“.  I figure people wanted to see the new baby…and then couldn’t wait to get all riled up and argue about breastfeeding.  (Nobody argued with me, by the way.  It wasn’t that kind of post.)

So why aren’t they reading now that I’m exclusively writing about mental health for a month?  My ego truly isn’t bruised.  I am simply worried about what this tells me about my topic.  Could it be that mental health is still so taboo that no one wants to read about it?  Or are these posts boring people?  Is the ppd blogging community deluding ourselves when we think we’re creating awareness?  Perhaps we’re really only writing for one another.  Or maybe it’s just a bit overwhelming.  It’s a tough topic.  Hard to think about.  I get that – really.  It’s a month of heavy writing, of me up on my soapbox.  So I understand if some of my readers are taking a break.

But.

I will keep writing.  1 in 5 mothers suffers from a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder.  This statistic from Postpartum Progress is shocking and frightening:

In fact, more mothers will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses this year than the combined number of new cases for both sexes of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. This is not to minimize these other terrible diseases, of course. I simply want to illustrate just how prevalent postpartum mood & anxiety disorders are.

These women cannot be left to believe they are alone.  I will continue to stand up and proudly claim my status as a ppd survivor and anxiety sufferer.  I am proof that mental illness can strike anyone, and that you can come out the other side stronger and more resilient than ever.

I hope you will support my fight against stigma.  I hope you will keep reading.

Invisible Wounds

20 Nov

I recently encountered a mom who took one look at me and assumed I had it all.  And y’all?  I can’t lie.  I have a wonderful life.  I am 34 weeks pregnant with a healthy baby girl.  I am fortunate enough to work from home and for myself, doing a job I adore.  My amazing husband is currently working on his PhD at an Ivy League school, has job security, and is home almost every night for dinner and to bathe No1.  And my first-born is a thriving, energetic, bright little girl who is mostly well-behaved.

I know it must look perfect from the outside.  But like @Hopin2bHappy said to me the other night, “Sometimes I wish I could just open my brain and show them the broken parts. “

Because sometimes?  I feel like I have no excuse to be struggling with antenatal depression and anxiety.  I think people glance at my life and see the house and the cute preggo belly and the crafts and the swept kitchen floor… and decide that I can’t possibly be struggling.  How dare I?  Look at how great my life is, how much I accomplish, how pretty I am, and how my floor and countertops are clean.  (Really, folks, I can’t tell you how often people comment that my floor is clean.  As if I’m sweeping my floor not because I have an anxiety disorder that compels me to sweep every day lest I feel out of control, but because I want to make them look bad.)  I know I shouldn’t care what they think, but it gets to me.

There are days I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt.  Guilt for having so much going right in my life and for not always being able to enjoy it.  So I remind myself of the truth.  Women struggling with PPD or PPA (or any kind of mood or anxiety disorder) are strong, successful, talented, and loving.  We have passions: we bake, we sing, we write, we craft.  We parent the best we can and reach out to help others despite our pain.  We work: for ourselves, for companies, for our families.  We are normal people dealing with an extraordinary situation.  The depression strikes despite all we have going right in our lives.  It literally prevents us from being able to enjoy our blessings and windfalls.  That’s why it’s called a mood disorder.

I realize that if you haven’t walked in my shoes, it’s impossible to truly understand where I’m coming from. I get that it’s a complicated subject, and often uncomfortable for people to discuss.  I’m managing the antenatal depression and anxiety well these days, but it is what I spend 80% of my energy doing.  They are always humming in the background, challenging my daily tasks with their lunacy.  My wounds are invisible, I know, but they are so very real and so when asked, “how are you?”  the answer is “I’m okay.  I’m in survival mode, but I’m doing okay.”  I choose authenticity, and I hope in response you choose compassion.

Mother’s Day Rally

30 Apr

IsurvivedPPD1I’ve been asked to participate in something life-changing.  Over a year ago, when I was still digging myself out of the hole PPD left in my life, I stumbled across Katherine Stone’s blog, Postpartum Progress.  Katherine started Postpartum Progress after surviving Postpartum OCD with her first child.  It is now the most widely-read blog on postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, and Katherine’s full-time job.  While the blog’s endless resources are amazing, it’s Katherine who is really changing lives.  She’s managed to create a safe place for women touched by postpartum mental health issues to connect – a community of understanding and support.  Women who are currently battling for their mental health turn there for help.  Survivors turn there for a sense of belonging.  And new moms read it to gain perspective on what life as a mother can be…and what it doesn’t have to be.  Her website was instrumental in helping me really heal.  She was the one who showed me how not alone I really was.  She contributed to my HOPE.

For the third year in a row, she is holding a Mother’s Day Rally.  Each hour on Sunday, May 8th, she will post a different letter from survivors and experts, honoring mothers everywhere and advocating for mothers’ emotional heath.  I am honored to be participating and so grateful for the opportunity to reach out to other moms – to give back to the community that gave me so much.

I hope you will join me on Mother’s Day over at Postpartum Progress.  Stand with me as I use my truth to combat stigma and shame.  Come celebrate and honor mothers everywhere by spreading awareness and understanding of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.  It’s the best Mother’s Day gift I can think of.

Because I Can

13 Apr

I’m oh-so-behind on the WEGO Health HAWMC Prompts.  I knew I’d never get to all of them, but here I am being hard on myself.  I even tried to long-hand some on the plane ride to Vegas, which was incredibly ambitious of me, considering I was living on dayquil and anxiety meds for the flight out there and took the red-eye back.  I haven’t looked at what I wrote yet…could be medication/sleep deprivation-inspired genius.  Or total nonsense.  Probably the latter.

So forgive me for using a prompt from April 6th.  But it’s the one that spoke to me today.

I write about my health because…

I didn’t mean to start writing about my health.  When I began writing, it was just for me.  I wanted to sort some things out and have some accountability for my journaling.  Having an audience (even if it was only a few friends) gave my writing a purpose and I found my voice.  My first real post was titled Learned Happiness and even though it began more as a philosophical reflection on happiness, it somehow ended up being about my experience with postpartum depression.  The words kind of just typed themselves.  Only a handful of people knew about what I had been through, so I literally took a deep breath before hitting “post”.

Two things happened as a result of that post.  First, the response I got back was amazing.  Friends and strangers emailed and commented to tell me how much they appreciated hearing about my struggle.  They were grateful for the honesty and each of the comments was encouraging.  It’s an amazing feeling to allow yourself to be so vulnerable and then get back nothing but love and respect.  More importantly, when I hit “post” I felt a weight being lifted off my shoulders – a lightening of my spirit.  Writing about the postpartum depression took the last little bit of shame I had tucked away in the cobwebby spaces of my mind and shook it out like a dirty rug.

I wondered.  If I can write about the postpartum depression, separating myself from it enough to let go of the shame, could I do the same with my anxiety?  This was even harder, because the anxiety and mood swings aren’t over.  They are still a part of who I am, and I usually work very hard to hide them.

With each new post, I felt terrified that sharing about my anxiety and mood swings would somehow lessen who I was to the friends and family reading it.  I worried they would think less of me.  But the opposite happened.  Not only do I get the impression that they find me more interesting because of these weaknesses, but I feel stronger and more myself every time.  Writing gives me a power over my condition.

I like that I am hacking away at stigma.  I am honored to be spreading awareness for mental health disorders.  But mostly, I’m grateful to have an opportunity to air my dirty laundry.  Because everybody’s got some, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I used to think I would have to conquer my mental health issues before being happy.  But here I am, writing about my experiences as a parent and a woman.  Writing about learning to be happy despite those little demons sitting on my shoulders.  Being honest about my daily struggles with mental health.  Because I’m in a place (finally) where I can.

Health Activist Writer’s Monthly Challenge

4 Apr

What, me?  A health activist?  How did that happen?  But here I am, writing about my experiences in therapy, my battle with PPD, and my ongoing struggles with anxiety and mood swings.  Blogging about all these things has kept me honest with myself about them – has allowed me to shed any last bit of shame I had.  And I’d like to think that I’m making other women feel less alone, and maybe (just maybe) kicking mental-illness-stigma’s ass in the process.

My profound and inspiring friend, Melissa at Sweetly Voiced has convinced me to participate in WEGO Health Blog’s Health Activist Writer’s Monthly Challenge.  I know I won’t be able to post for each daily prompt, but I’d like to think I’m meeting the challenge just by committing to raise awareness for my health cause.  I can definitely do one a week, so I’m aiming for that instead.

Today’s prompt is to ask a question about your condition Yahoo! Answers-style and answer it.  I hear this question a lot.  From family…friends…well-meaning people.

Question:  What are you so worried about?  What’s wrong?

Answer: Nothing.  Everything.  Both.  When you live with an anxiety disorder, although your worries may have root in reality, the anxiety does not.  So on any given day, while I may be able to articulate a trigger for my anxiety, it can’t be just reasoned away.  People want to know what’s wrong so they can fix it and help find a solution.  I get that.  But in my case, it just doesn’t work that way.

It may seem like a contradiction to see me visibly upset, but for there to not be a good reason.  In my case, I usually know my anxiety is unwarranted, but can’t help it.  It’s not uncommon to hear me tell someone, “I’m fine.  I mean, I’m freaking out.  But there’s nothing wrong.  I’m fine.”  And it’s the truth.

I’d rather people asked, “How are you?” because I am not my anxiety.  I am a person suffering from anxiety.  And I can’t even begin to tell you everything I’m so worried about.  But I can tell you how I am, and how you can help me.

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