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.
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.
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.
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.