Lauren Hale

Lauren Hale tells it like it is about Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders over at My Postpartum Voice. She is also the founder of #PPDChat, an online Twitter & FB Community dedicated to supporting moms on their journey by harnessing the power of the Internet. You can find her on Twitter @unxpctdblessing.

Thanksgiving Survival Tips

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Thanksgiving Fog

Thanksgiving Fog – Albany Nov 02 by altuwa on @flickr

Before I experienced Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and depression, I will admit my self-care during my adult life was nearly non-existent. I still had interests, hobbies, things I loved to do, but I didn’t put any of it into practice on a regular basis. Instead, I allowed myself to give in to what others wanted and needed all too often. This was, of course, no one’s fault but my own. Motherhood and my subsequent fierce battles with Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder were my great teachers – albeit they taught me through fire and not calm patience.

This morning it hit me just how much I have learned in the nearly 10 years since my first episode. (Side note – I can’t believe it has been nearly TEN YEARS!)

Holidays are difficult for me, Thanksgiving in particular. You see, when I was a pre-teen (I believe they are called tweens nowadays – kids and their slang), I lost my step-grandmother on Thanksgiving Day. She died in the morning and that afternoon, we were at my other grandmother’s house to “celebrate” with a large meal and an even larger family. Some years it bothers me more than others but for the most part, it’s simply part of the day and she’s always with me, even if just in my thoughts.

This year, we invited my parents to come up for Thanksgiving. They accepted and said they’d be here unless there was weather. All looked great until earlier this week when there was talk of a major snow storm due to hit today. I continued to prepare as if they would be arriving. This morning, the final call was made. They won’t be traveling to see us and I am staring at snow-covered ground at the beginning of the threatened storm which is now all too real.

What did I do this morning, you ask?

I relaxed.

Instead of crying or allowing anger to take over, I sat down on the couch, exhaled, drank coffee, and watched a fantastic documentary the TiVo recorded about snow monkeys in Japan. I turned on my HappyLight and snuggled with the cat.

I chose peace. I practiced it without guilt.

When we are in the midst of a battle for our mental health, for our sanity, it isn’t always this simple to choose peace. We cannot choose peace any more than someone who has cancer can choose to be healthy. We have to wait and hope for the best, hope that there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel. Once we find our light, however, we carry it with us through our lives and it makes us a stronger person. It changes us deep down.

Days like today make me grateful for my experience. Grateful that despite the horrid darkness into which I sank, I rose above it with the help of others (like Katherine). I am grateful for the silence and the magic of the world around me and being able to choose to see it instead of focusing on the what if’s of chaos.

For those who are heading into the holidays and struggling to keep your own anxiety and other issues at bay due to the increased social expectations, please remember to take care of yourselves. Here are a few tips to help keep your holidays (and you) sane:

Know your boundaries and do not be afraid to defend them.

If you are visiting others, scope out the location when you first arrive for a quiet corner to which you can escape if that chest-tightening ball starts to swell in your chest and throat. (Bathrooms are fabulous for this as no one questions it!)

Remember to breathe. Deeply. Breathe is essential and slowing it down helps us soothe anxiety.

Talk with your loved ones, particularly your partner or someone you are close to – develop a strategy for exit if things get too overwhelming.

Remember that you are not required to give an intimate description of how you are doing unless you are up to it. Change the subject. Wikipedia is your friend!

How people choose to react to you is NOT YOUR GIG. Be the best you that you can be at this time in your life. How people choose to react to this says far more about them than it ever will about you.

You can get through this holiday. You can. You’ve come so far, and you are fighting a far fiercer foe than the one which exists on this one day.

Me? I’m gonna head into the kitchen now and wrap things up so I can binge on Netflix for the remainder of the day.

You? Have a fabulous holiday season and don’t forget to be the awesomeness that is hidden deep inside.

photo credit link

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Authenticity Instead of Perfection

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decoy momAuthenticity is defined as real, not false or imitation. Original. Genuine. This is what we should strive for as women, as mothers, as people. To be that which we are deep down instead of cookie cutter copies of those around us. It’s only when we dare to step out of our comfort zone that we will boldly begin to live our lives. Strive for authenticity instead of perfection. Dare to be you, even if that means walking around with spit up on your shoulder and gummy bears stuck to your shirt. Motherhood isn’t glamourous but it’s one of the best jobs in the whole world.

Colorful jars sit atop a shelf in a misty and humid room. Running water slides down her skin as she lathers up with the latest in moisturizing body wash which promises to make her skin glow with youth. She washes her hair with shampoo and conditioner to make it thick, silky, and soft.

As she exits the shower, the drying process begins – softly – so as not to leave any red marks or heaven forbid, pull skin in the wrong direction. Pat the face dry then move down to her toes. She folds the towel in thirds and places it neatly back on the rod before she wraps her hair in a smaller towel.

Grabbing a toothbrush, she measures out the whitening toothpaste and gets to work. Rinses, then gargles with mouthwash to ensure bad breath stays at bay. Then, moisturizer. While that soaks in, she puts on her undergarments. A bra with an underwire and underwear that promises to hold in her stomach which has nurtured the lives of her children close for the past few years. She frowns. Back to the bathroom.

She reaches for the first layer of glow, then dots on concealer. Waits for it to dry before applying an overall foundation and gently blending it together to hide the exhaustion and stress marching across her face. Next up, eye liner and eye shadow. They make the eyes more open and energetic. Mascara goes on next, gently, the kind that lengthens the lashes because again, more awake and conscious. Less tired.

Then she puts on blush to cheer her cheeks up, smiling as she carefully brushes up, not down – happy, not sad, she whispers to herself.

She takes down her hair and gives it a tousle. Plugs in the hair dryer and gives her hair a once over, then pulls it into a messy bun and pokes a pretty bobby pin with a gorgeous flower on it into the base of the bun. Walks into the closet and chooses whatever isn’t wrinkled or covered in baby food stains. Grabs a pretty pair of heels then over to the jewelry box to select accessories.

A small hand tugs on her silk skirt and she looks down.

“Mama? You look beee-yooo-tea-fahllll. Hug?” her middle daughter asks, covered in chocolate from whatever snack she just finished devouring.

So the mother leans down and gives the child a hug, knowing she will have to change her clothes. She sends her daughter on her way, and walks back into the closet, stripping as she goes. A new outfit selected, she makes it to the car with no child-induced stains on her pretty clothes.

She turns the key, unlocks the door, and slides into the driver’s seat, throwing her miniature purse on the passenger seat beside her. Exhaling, she checks her makeup one last time to be sure she looks human and not like some exhausted creature just waking up from hibernation. She doesn’t. She turns the key, starts the music, and backs out of the driveway.

Transformation into Decoy Mom complete.

Decoy Mom is a mom who goes through great lengths to hide how her life is really going, to hide the authenticity of her fight. Every stitch must be perfect, every thing in it’s place, nothing negative to be found anywhere. And yet, inside, everything is falling apart. Her heart, her life, her soul – it’s all cracked and crumbling.

I’m not saying that a Mom who has it all pulled together is definitively falling apart. Nor am I saying that a Mom who doesn’t have it all pulled together is authentically herself. What I am saying is that we are all “covers” when we are with people and some of us are even “covers” when we are alone. As the previous post by Katherine pointed out, you can’t tell when a mom has a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder just by looking. We are good at hiding it.

We choose what pieces of ourselves to share and what pieces of ourselves to hide. We are not expected to be fully authentic with anyone unless WE choose to do so. But we should absolutely be at least fully sharing ourselves with ourselves. In order to be authentic with anyone at all, you have to first be authentic with yourself. Being authentic with yourself is a difficult practice but a necessary one. As Brene Brown says,

“Authenticity is a daily practice.”

Stop hiding behind a mask, telling yourself lies about who or what you are inside and outside. Take a hard look inside. Explore. Make a list of everything that is there whether it is good or bad. Work to improve or re-frame the bad (sometimes, negative traits can be utilized for positive things – are you firm & harsh? Figure out how to rein that in by using compassion and understanding). Expand the good, let go of the negative. Focus on flipping the script.

Figure out what you want out of life this year, make a list, then break it down into smaller goals. Don’t let the big things overwhelm you and don’t let yourself become Decoy Mom.

Be the authentic Mom, wife, sister, cousin, aunt, and YOU that you were meant to be. Stop hiding her under layers of crap. You might find that you have more time (and energy) to BE you if you give up all the hiding.

(photo sourced from: https://flic.kr/p/dy8tQr)

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A Whole Lotta Warrior Moms Say Thank You, Katherine, for 10 AMAZING Years

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Katherine ComputerI dove headfirst into blogging about Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders because of Karen Kleiman.

But I grew into an online advocate because of Katherine Stone. She embraced me as I fumbled through the early days of running a blog, a website for struggling women, and my third pregnancy after two terrifying episodes of Postpartum OCD (which, incidentally, is what Katherine also struggled with during her experience with a PMAD).

If I had a question about something online, I turned to Katherine. She always got back to me and sometimes prodded me to do more and be more involved. More importantly, she always treated me as if I were equal to her, this amazing woman who had no fear about discussing the nitty gritty about PMAD’s online.

Postpartum Support International dragged me onto FB but where I flourished was on Twitter. I noticed, back in the early days of Twitter, that people were having these “parties” for certain products. I thought to myself, why can’t we do that for PPD? I floated the idea by Katherine and a couple other bloggers (Amber and Ivy). They were absolutely on board and Katherine whole-heartedly supported the beginning of #PPDChat.

#PPDChat is now the go-to hashtag for PMAD support on FB. There’s a closed FB group with over 350 members. I may have started it, but it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the experience, support, and genuine caring flowing from Katherine in my early online days.

She inspires more than simple advocacy (although few of us would dare call it simple – it is EXHAUSTING but worthy), she saves lives, she kicks stigma in the ass repeatedly, and genuinely cares about the people who reach out to her.

I don’t think she has any idea how many lives she has changed. How many advocates now exist because of her decision to live her life out loud. To stand up, shouting until she is heard, when the world expects us to sit down and be quiet. The passion in her heart far exceeds capacity and overflows abundantly to those around her.

To her family, a sincere and heartfelt thank you as well for sharing the woman of your lives with us. For without your support, all of us would not be the women we are today. I would be remiss to not acknowledge your important role in Katherine’s work.

Be proud – your wife, your mother, your daughter – she saves lives.

Below are several blog posts, written by women who celebrate how Katherine has affected their lives. To read them, you will need a box of Kleenex. These are women from all walks of life, women who found themselves covered in the dark mud of a PMAD but were yanked out of it by Katherine or found Katherine after they found their way out and now reach down behind them along with Katherine to rescue others who find themselves trapped in the mud hole of a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder. (Because let’s face it, no one wants to go muddin’ in a PMAD!)

Katherine, you’re changing the world with every breath you take, every stroke of the keyboard, every post, every outreach, every encounter, every awkward step outside of your comfort zone. You are loved, your work has wrapped the world over and made it a brighter place. We are always climbing out of the darkness with you and we will never stop.

Keep on keepin’ on, lady.

You’re not alone, and neither are we.

 

PP Blogathon Button

Jenny @ Tranquilamama: My Lifeline Through PPD & PPA

Robin @ Farewell Stranger: Postpartum Progress: 10 Years of Magic

Jennifer @ Bipolar Mom Life: The Relief In Finding Postpartum Progress

Danielle @ Velveteen Mama: My Postpartum Progress

Charity @ Giggles & Grimaces: Hope In A Computer

Jenny @ Jenny Kavensky’s Blog: It Takes a Village

Erin @ Erin Margolin: Happy Tenth Anniversary, Postpartum Progress

Morra Aarons-Mele @ Women & Work: In Celebration of Katherine Stone and 10 years of Postpartum Progress

Tina Duepner @ The Duepners: Cheers to 10 Years

Esther @ Journey Through PPD: Happy 10th Anniversary To Postpartum Progress

Ravion Lee @ Vain Mommy: Postpartum Progress Turns 10: The Woman Behind The Change

Kristina @ Sew Curly: Postpartum Progress Is 10

Rita Arens @ Surrender Dorothy: In Celebration of Katherine Stone

Katie Sluiter @ Sluiter Nation: I Am Not Alone and Neither are You

Cristi Comes @ Motherhood Unadorned: Postpartum Progress: Kicking Ass for 10 Years!

Tabatha @ Tabulous: A Love Letter To The Woman Who Saved My Life

Susan @ Learned Happiness: First and Last: Happy Anniversary, Postpartum Progress!

Deborah Forhan Rimmler via My Postpartum Voice: Guest Post – On Meeting An Angel

Beth @ Beth Bone: Thank You Just Doesn’t Seem Enough

Andrea @ Good Girl Gone Redneck: Happy 10th Anniversary, Postpartum Progress

Julia Roberts (not THAT one, the other one!) via Postpartum Progress: The Man Behind the Woman Behind Postpartum Progress

Jess @ Just Jess In the ATX (note – this was not written for the anniversary specifically but was shared to the FB page for the blogathon to show the impact Katherine had on Jess’ life and recovery, therefore, it’s shared here): Picture Perfect 

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When Holidays and Mental Health Clash

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I have always adored marching bands. I loved going to high school football games, not just to watch the football and socialize, but to hear the fantastic music echoing from the school’s marching band. The way it drifted across the field and swept from the ground upward, filling my soul, reverberating inside my chest, redefining my heartbeat for a few glorious moments.

The college I attended did not have a marching band. I missed it.

I remember watching the movie Drumline over and over because I missed it so much.

Then, I graduated, got married, had kids, and Postpartum OCD slammed into me as a ship is tossed into a rocky coastline during a Nor’easter.

July 4, 2010 Downers Grove Parade, by Kimberly Janisch via Flickr

July 4, 2010 Downers Grove Parade, by Kimberly Janisch via Flickr

I remember the first time we went to a parade after my first daughter was born. It was several months after her birth and I felt okay. As we stood there, in a throng of people, I felt my anxiety creeping upward, swirling around my ankles, climbing desperately toward my heart. I stomped my feet, trying to shake it off. But then, a marching band rounded the corner. My anxiety took hold, rocked upward, and choked me. I stood there, motionless, my heart racing, my throat swelling, my mouth unable to move as tears spiraled down my cheeks. It totally caught me off guard as I somehow managed to stand my ground as this overwhelming emotion struck through me as if I were some concrete wall meant to be demolished. Over and over again it slammed into me as I stood there, leaving only as the band finally marched away. As another band careened toward us, I held my breath and braced myself again for the attack. It came, not as difficult this time but it still clenched my heart tightly and wrapped it’s brilliant musical notes around my head until I felt as if I would faint. Thankfully, there was only one more band, if I remember correctly, and I survived. But the entire experience left me utterly exhausted and perplexed.

What had happened? I adored marching bands. Simply adored them. Why on earth had I reacted so strongly and more so…negatively to an experience I once found inspiring and soothing?

Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders change us. We find ourselves growing into new people as a result of our brush with this experience of mental health struggles after giving birth to a child. We may not change that much but we may change quite a bit. Some changes are not bad ones, other changes we must simply learn to adapt to and leave behind us. Those are the changes which make things more difficult.

I have had to leave marching bands in my past, unfortunately.

I no longer attend parades or festivities where loud music, specifically, marching bands will be playing. It’s a limit I am not comfortable pushing. And that, folks, is okay.

Here’s the thing about holidays and other festivities – yes, the goal is to have fun and celebrate, but if it is a situation which causes you considerable anxiety, stress, or intense reactions such as the one I described above, it is okay to stand up for yourself and decline the invitation. If someone gets upset about you respecting your boundaries, ask yourself how much they respect you and your need to do what is best for you. So you don’t go to the parade. Offer to bring a covered dish to a BBQ later on or whip up a dessert for everyone to have after the parade. How people react to you is absolutely not your gig. Do what is healthiest for you and offer compromises. If they are not amenable to a compromise, then let them deal with their emotions as long as you have presented your reasoning in the best way possible.

With this in mind, I want to wish all the American readers of Postpartum Progress a very happy Fourth of July. I also want to remind you that it’s okay to turn down the invite to the big party and keep your mental health in the green. You are worth it.

 

photo source: https://flic.kr/p/8fPJ8M

 

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