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.

 

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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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Toward A Better Understanding of Postpartum Depression

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emergency-stop-buttonThe following post is about a potentially triggering topic.

Please be aware of this as you continue and if you are in a particularly fragile or sensitive state, you may want to skip this post altogether.

This post will continue below the graphic to the left.

If you’re choosing to skip this post, here’s a really adorable video of a tiny hamster eating a burrito to watch instead.

Because well, a tiny hamster. Eating a burrito. What’s not to love???

(I’m kind of in awe of how fast the little guy chows down!)

 

 

 

Last night, on Facebook, I noticed a post by The Postpartum Stress Center:

 

Postpartum Stress Center FB Snapshot

 

 

 

 

 

As an advocate, one of the biggest things I fight is stigma and misinformation. Sure, I reach out and help women seek help as they battle against whatever form of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder they may have looming large over their lives, but the majority of time, I am correcting issues like the one Karen Kleiman (founder of Postpartum Stress Center) refers to above. The post refers to an article appearing at the Miami Herald’s website about a mother who attempted to drown her child. She also tried to poison and smother him when he was just two months old.

Nothing is more infuriating than reading an article about a mother who has harmed her child only to discover the only term used within said article is postpartum depression.

I cannot emphasize the following enough: Women with postpartum depression are highly unlikely to harm (and therefore kill) their infants. Women who struggle with postpartum psychosis, however, are far more likely. That said, at this point, the only person stating she suffered from postpartum depression is the mother. Her family admits she sought treatment shortly after her child was born but we do not have details. Yet one mention of postpartum depression and boom. We’re off to the races without putting the right saddle on the horse.

I reached out to Karen Kleiman for her thoughts about this situation. This is what she had to offer about Armour “blaming” PPD:

“Of course Armour blamed it on PPD. That’s all we talk about. PPD is so frequently used when referring to any postpartum mood or anxiety disorder. in fact, it is used when there is NO mood or anxiety disorder, such as the Baby Blues. So, yes, until we have a clear diagnosis (and even then, the diagnosis can be wrong) we need to be careful. That’s the media as well as the public at large. She is being judged by all of us.”

She is most definitely being judged by all of us, whether we want to admit it or not. All we can offer at the moment is conjecture, which is a dangerous thing if accompanied by misinformation as well.

Here’s a quick lesson:

Postpartum Depression, a commonly used umbrella term for the mood disorders on the Postpartum Mood Disorder spectrum, is also the term for one of the disorders on the spectrum. Postpartum Depression may consist of but is not limited to: sadness, crying for no reason, lethargy, lack of interest in previous activities/hobbies, distance from baby and family or social activities, anger, irritability.

Postpartum Psychosis, the most serious of the Postpartum Mood Disorders, often involves (but again, is not limited to): auditory or visual hallucinations, the inability to care for oneself and make decisions. Considered a medical emergency requiring immediate hospitalization, this particular disorder also carries the deadliest rate of both infanticide and suicide.

As you see, the two are quite different beasts. They are on the same “spectrum” as they are both mental disorders which occur after the birth of a child, but the signs and symptoms for both are of completely different degrees.

Karen continues, with this:

Let’s face it, even the experts disagree. The lines are blurry and they are getting blurrier instead of clearer. More and more cases are unfolding that are confounding experts and have us wondering what variables are related to what, if you know what I mean. So education is indeed the key. But education isn’t enough. Because mental illness isn’t crystal clear and many definitions merge into each other. So we also need compassion and patience. We need to stop jumping to conclusions, stop judging, stop presuming we understand what happened, and we need good assessments, good treatment, good journalism and continued advocacy. But in reality, we live in a culture that wants information NOW and they want it whether it is accurate or not. Sensationalism sells and we scaring the hell out of women who are just trying to understand and trying to heal.

How can we fight back? By continuing to do what we do. Get the right information out there. Spread it around as best we can. Journalists are fighting against deadlines and unfortunately, this doesn’t always leave them time to check their facts.”

What can families and friends do to better educate themselves in order to help loved ones who may end up fighting the nastier beasts on the Perinatal spectrum? They can do the following, according to Karen:

Again, women and their families need to be alert to changes in personality or behavior after a baby is born. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. It is far better to overprotect her and be mistaken, than to miss the opportunity to get her the help she needs. Here is a link to our Emergency Room Guidelines, which will give you info about screening for psychosis.”

The number one thing to keep in mind, particularly if you think it can’t happen to you or someone you know, is that it can.

Postpartum depression and psychosis can happen to any one. It happens to loving mothers who have anticipated the birth of their baby with joy and excitement in their hearts. It is cruel, brutal illness that does not discriminate. It is no reflection on the mother, who is suffering. Surely, we can have compassion for mothers who are suffering.” -Karen Kleiman

The article at the Miami Herald pointed out that Armour had created a video, portraying her love story with her partner, and her joy about her upcoming birth. What went wrong? How could a happy mother possibly go from overjoyed to attempting to kill her own child? Therein lies the more important question and story, in my opinion. It’s a difficult story to write, to comprehend. But the more we write about it, with the proper terms and information included, the more we encourage mothers to step forward, courage in their hearts, to seek help before it is far too late.

I reached out to Dr. Kenneth Johnson, the chair and professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine, who was quoted in the Miami Herald article, offering him a chance to clarify the statement used in the piece. This is his response:

“I of course agree with you that even with severe postpartum depression it is very rare for mothers to harm their baby.  Postpartum psychosis is more severe and more likely to be associated with risk to the mothers baby.  Separating the two conditions is very difficult clinically as there is almost always overlap with severe depression when psychosis is evident.”

He is right, and Karen Kleiman makes the same point in her article at Psychology Today. The difficult issue with Psychosis is that until there is a break, it’s very difficult to discern if the person is struggling with severe depression or with psychosis. Psychosis is always a medical emergency and requires immediate attention.

Another thing to keep in mind, particularly given that July is Minority Mental Health month, is the lack of education regarding mental health issues among minority populations. A’Drianne Nieves, who blogs at Butterfly Confessions, is passionate about speaking up about mental health issues and the lack of resources, voices, and education which exists today. She had this to offer about Armour’s situation:

Education, man. Distinction between illnesses & awareness about the range of their symptoms. Doctors need to really start educating women on this. She didn’t have PPD. Whatever treatment she received I’m sure it wasn’t adequate or last long enough or maybe they just misdiagnosed her. Her family-did they know the symptoms of psychosis? What to do? Who to call? Education. Education, especially in minority communities is lacking and is a critical need.

A’Drianne also offered this on her FB page when sharing the Miami Herald article:

This is why we need more awareness on postpartum mood disorders and their symptoms among women of color. FACTS. We need FACTS on the wide range of symptoms and distinction between each illness. Facts and support/access to resources…..This is why #MinorityMentalHealth Month matters. This is why we need to keep advocating and have more people of color SEEN in the mental health advocacy space, especially online and in mental health magazines and other publications/literature.”

The media is not only getting their facts wrong, they are increasing stigma. As Karen so brilliantly states in her piece at Psychology Today, ” Journalists, Doctors, Everyone: Let’s Get it Right”:

“Let’s get it right. Lives depend on it.”

They do depend on it. The wrong description or sensationalized information causes women and their families to fear help instead of embracing it with open arms. I have lost count of how many times a mom told me she can’t take medicine because her partner is afraid it will turn her into Andrea Yates. Or how many of us must avoid the Internet when sensationalized stories are bandied about with horrible comments attached – comments which range from the pitied to the enraged to the downright vicious. Comments which categorize all of us with a Perinatal Mood Disorder as monsters. We are not monsters, you know. We are you. We are your mothers, we are your sisters, we are your daughters, your cousins, your wives, your aunts…we are the cashier at the store, the accountant down the hall, the lawyer defending you in court, the doctor you take your children to when they’re sick, the employee at your favourite restaurant, the postal employee who delivers your mail, we are every woman and we are just like you with hopes, dreams, and lots of love to give. But we live in fear as we struggle because the media paints what we fight with such dark intense strokes.

Journalists are inching closer to getting it right but there’s still a long way to go. A long, long way.

If you see a story which includes misinformation, reach out. Contact the journalist. The paper. Write a letter to the editor. Speak up.

We owe the women on this road behind us a smoother ride than we have had on our own and in order to do that, we cannot afford to remain silent.

If you are a journalist writing about Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders, reach out to Postpartum Support International for the facts. Or if you’re pressed for time, you can find them online at their Get The Facts Page. If you’re a mom or have a loved one struggling with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder, there’s plenty of help out there. You can reach out to Postpartum Progress, to Postpartum Support International, or use the hashtag #PPDChat on Twitter. You are not alone and there is help. Don’t let stigma fool you into believing you’re a monster. You’re not. You are loved, you are not to blame, and there is absolutely a light at the end of your tunnel.

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Asking for help isn’t always easy

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Over the last 4 ½ years, I’ve become a vocal and outspoken advocate on the issue of Postpartum Depression and it’s equally nasty but lesser-known bedfellows such as Postpartum OCD and Postpartum Psychosis (not the full list of PPMD, by the way). I’m very up front and open about my experiences with PPD, PPOCD, and Postpartum Anxiety. I love to talk about what I went through, how I felt, the road to becoming myself again, and anything else even remotely related to PPD etc. It’s one of my hot button topics that I am passionate about and can go on about for a very long time.

I’m open about my experiences because I felt alone and ashamed for so long. In the time leading up to the first of my two hospitalizations, I didn’t talk to people about how I felt because I thought all women experience this and that I just wasn’t handling it well. I was ashamed and scared of my feelings and my thoughts. I didn’t think I knew anyone who had gone through what I was going through and I didn’t know who to talk to, so I didn’t talk to anyone. Even after I was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression and started medication, I still kept it as much of a secret as I could because I was sure that nobody would understand. I was terrified of being seen and treated like a freak of nature, a monster, a bad mom, and a failure (by the way, I know now that that is NOT true, so if you’re thinking these same things about yourself, those are dirty rotten lies, you’re actually very awesome). I’m open now because I want people to know they can come to me, I want everyone I know to know that they aren’t alone, there is someone out there who understands and who will definitely NOT judge them. I want that for them because I know what that isolation and fear feels like. I have Been There, Done That (and it sucked).

The first time I ever tried to really talk to anybody about how I was feeling was actually under the cover of anonymity. I was a member of a discussion forum for military spouses and significant others.  I had been a member for a while and had access to a forum that offered members the option to post anonymously to get advice and input (there was also an option to answer anonymously). I logged in and submitted an anonymous post about what I’d been going through and dealing with. The admin was concerned and reached out to me. Her love and support meant a lot and I still to this day appreciate it.

Here’s the point I’m trying to get at: maybe you see someone who’s been suffering in silence or see someone who posts anonymously and wonder “Why didn’t they just speak up? There’s support for PPD, why don’t/didn’t/can’t they just ask for help?”. I’d like to address two very specific issues with this.

The first is that one of the problems with Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders is that it fools your brain. It can change how you think and make it so that you don’t see things through the lens of reality, but rather through a cracked and distorted filter. You may not be capable of thinking things through logically to be able to realize that you can speak up and reach out for help. Going along with this, there is still a *lot* of stigma associated with PPMD. The shame and fear can be blinding and overwhelming. A combination of these two factors can be particularly nasty. Speaking from my experience, my thinking was so warped by the haze of PPMD that I was scared to even talk to my mom, my husband, a doctor, or very close friends in a military s/o community who had never been anything but loving. The fear of stigma and judgment made it that much worse. And I had trouble even finding the words to express what I was feeling, that certainly didn’t help. I’m not alone in this, either. I’ve talked to many women who said the same thing: “I was afraid to even talk to my husband or doctor about it.”. If women are that scared of talking to people whom they should normally be able to trust with anything, it shouldn’t be a shock that it might be even worse to think about opening up to anyone else.

Another problem is that despite there being resources available like Postpartum Progress, there is often a lack of awareness of these resources. Many people legitimately aren’t aware of the community that exists to support and raise awareness of the realities of PPMD. And when someone is in the middle of PPMD and has their brain playing games with them is definitely NOT the time to criticize or question their lack of awareness.

The main point I’m getting to is this: when it comes to PPMD, be gentle. If you are the one dealing with it, be gentle with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for your feelings. This is not your fault and it doesn’t make you a failure or say anything about your character or you as a human/mom/whatever. All it says is that you are struggling with PPMD. If you are on the outside looking in and wondering why someone isn’t/didn’t speak up openly, be gentle with them. It’s very easy to say “Help is out there, ask for it”. It’s another thing entirely to realize and accept that and then actually do it. It’s difficult and it’s scary. Heck, even for me, who’s pretty well aware of PPMD, outspoken about it, and knowing I have a darned good support system and resources available, it’s still a scary thought at the end of every pregnancy when I think “What if it comes back this time?” (thankfully, it hasn’t).

Speaking up isn’t easy, and reluctance to ask for help is normal. Be gentle, whether it’s with yourself or someone else. Don’t criticize the method in which they reach out, ask how you can support them (and then follow through to the best of your abilities). Love them, accept them, and accept that even if you’ve been through it yourself, it may be a different experience for you and you don’t know how they feel or what it’s like for them, you don’t know what’s going on inside their head. Criticizing feeds into the fear and stigma they’re already fighting. Instead, just listen and be there for them. Love them unconditionally.

Love. It comes down to love. Gentle, kind, accepting love.

 

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Why “Before” Wasn’t Better Than “After”

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I felt relief (“OMG! I’m normal!”), and then dismay (“Wait, this shouldn’t be normal…”), when I realized that my normally “high” level of anxiety had suddenly become “average,” for a pregnant woman. People expected anxiety. There were lists of things–foods, activities, local hospitals, doctors–about which relative strangers felt entirely comfortable asking, “Does that scare you?” It’s now clear to me that pregnant women and mothers are expected to live with the kind of anxiety that set off alarm bells and warranted intensive treatment for me, before pregnancy. In fact, our culture worries when a pregnant woman/mother doesn’t worry.

I won’t stand for that.

I’ve been in treatment, consistently, since age 21–twice weekly therapy, prescription medications, even a hospital stay. I became a mother in 2012, at age 28. I believe that my experience with diagnosed mental illness both before and during motherhood can offer some insight to the community here at Postpartum Progress. In fact, I can confidently promise you two things:

Door To The SkyFirst–it will get better. There will be peaks and valleys, but once you commit to doing the work required to improve your mental health, nothing can stop that upward trajectory.

Second–you do not really want to go back to “before” your diagnosis, or your pregnancy, or your first panic attack, or your first depressive episode, or whenever you date the beginning of your struggle.

You have probably heard my first promise, before. I can’t say it often enough. It will get better, because you have done the hardest thing. You have admitted to yourself that you want to get better. Since I started blogging about mental illness, I have talked to a lot of different kinds of people about their mental health. I’m not a doctor, so I contribute by listening and sharing. I don’t promise everyone that they will get better, because I don’t always know that they want to. But mothers who join this community of Warrior Moms? Well, it’s in the name–you are fighters. And as long as I keep fighting, I get better. And so will you.

As for my second promise, I cannot tell you how many people, both strangers and close friends, have told me how they long to go back to Before All of This. I get it. I do. I have romanticized my own Before, sometimes, by seeing myself as others might have.

The darkest period of my life came just after a period of intense productivity, and I did not understand, at first, why I came crashing down from such a high place. Before my breakdown, I achieved. An outgoing, smiling, ambitious young woman, I made my own bright future with hard work and talent. I couldn’t keep it up, though, because no matter how well I did, I still believed that I was not Good Enough. When I realized that I didn’t like myself, even when other people liked me, praised me, and gave me their approval–that’s when I broke down. I get fewer awards, now, but I am now honest with myself. I even like myself.

I broke down because I didn’t truly believe that I was worth loving, no matter what, and that self-doubt is what “Before” now means to me. A number of good care providers have suggested that my mental illness began troubling me in early childhood, because I can remember insomnia and inexplicable stomach aches as young as age eight. I don’t know that I truly remember a time before anxiety played an important role in my life, so I may not have a true Before. But I date my Before at 21 years old, because that’s when I believed myself unworthy of love. In order to get through that darkness, I took their word for it–friends, family, doctors–that I was worth saving, that I was worth loving. I sat in a hospital, without any of the things that I thought I needed, and I found that there was a light in the dark. It may sound corny, but the only light down there in the darkness came from me.

What have you learned, in the dark, that you can keep, even when things get better? We can’t untangle those lessons from the “bad” stuff, from the public tears, or the times we couldn’t bring ourselves to pick up our crying babies, or the phone calls we didn’t return out of exhaustion. You may not yet have any words for it, but I promise that you have something, now, that didn’t exist Before. If your mood or anxiety disorder began after pregnancy or birth, then yes, it is true that you would not have your baby, if you went back to Before. No one does this work entirely for another person, though, and we don’t do it for only our babies or families. I had to want better, for me, before I could face just how hard I was going to have to work. What you have now, that you did not have before, is the drive to pull yourself up out of the darkness.

It does get better, and you can do it, because you want to. Because you are here. Because I made it through self-hatred and hopelessness without parenthood to push me. Because you made it through a day, a week, a month, a year of parenthood, even with this weight on your shoulders. You are already doing this. You typed, or you clicked, and you came here, because you want better, for yourself. The health of your family also depends on this drive that you now know you possess–to take care of yourself. Your family is stronger for it. The dark voice that whispers that you were better off, or even that they were better off, Before All of This is lying. The truth is that the everyone is better off, now that you see your own strength, the strength it takes to face mental illness.

I’m going to show my Geek Card, now, and quote Doctor Who: “The universe has to move forward. Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love.” I wouldn’t wish this struggle on anyone in the world. But as long as you are here, celebrate with me that Warrior Moms stand up and face our worst fears, so that we can keep going. You did not know, before, that you could carry so much, and still keep going. But you are doing just that, and never alone.

 

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