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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Needing Medication is Not a Weakness

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Image-1 (1)I’ve known many mamas out there who have lived through postpartum depression with treatment that included medication. I’ve also known others who were hesitant to take them, or chose not to for many many reasons. Its such a personal choice and I would never ever judge either approach.

But I can say with absolute certainty that the need for medication — choosing to take medication for your illness — is not a sign of weakness. It doesn’t make you a bad mom, or a mom who just can’t pull herself up by her bootstraps, and in the immortal words of Tim Gunn “make it work.” Trust me.

I was blessed to have taken antidepressant medication before postpartum depression. Yes, I just said “blessed.” It was a hard thing to accept early in my adulthood when I realized that I had the need for medication. Its a nerve wracking thing. How will it change me? What side effects might I suffer? What will people think of me?

I wished for a long time that I didn’t need the meds. But they helped me, and I started to feel like myself again after figuring out–with the help of my doctor–which medications worked for me. So I started to feel ok with the need for medication. I started to realize that if I had a physical illness, like say diabetes, insulin would be a given. There would be no shame. The would be no questions of what others would think of me.

So when I was hit with postpartum depression after the birth of my daughter almost 4 years ago, I was ok with upping my meds, changing them a bit to balance things out. I was breastfeeding, so we found medications that were deemed ok. Not everything is full proof, but it worked out well for us, thankfully.

At this moment, you may be hit with postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD or other postpartum mood disorders. Mental illness may not be something you’re familiar with in your own life. And that’s scary. And it sucks. And its hard to come to terms with. You might in your heart feel shame, like you’re not a strong person or normal like everyone else. Or if you could just hope more or wish more or pray more, you’d get better. I get it.  Too many of us get it. Its OK to feel that way, but try to understand that its the illness talking to you. Depression is a big fat liar who lies deep inside your heart.

You are not weak, or less than normal. Truly, what you are experiencing is a medical condition. Its real, and just like diabetes or thyroid disease or bad eyesight or even a broken leg, it should not be shameful. None of those physical conditions are shameful, so why should your illness be?

But I know its still hard  to accept the “mental” part, especially when you don’t know what’s going on at the start. Its not something as easily seen or understood as a broken leg. But if you reach out, find a doctor who will listen, things can change. You can be the mother you want to be with the right treatment.

So I want you to repeat after me. Needing medication is not a weakness. Again. Needing Medication is Not a Weakness. Try to say it as many times as it takes until it sinks in. Because it is the truth.

Later this week, I’ll be discussing additional therapies and alternative ways of helping postpartum depression outside of medication. Things that you can add to your treatment plan at home to be an active participant in your care. Things your family members can do to help you. But know that if your doctor suggests it, and you choose medication, its OK. You’re not weak or bad or hopeless. You’re going to get better, and there is true strength in the journey.

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On Finally Being the Rock

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Explosions in the SkyLife takes us sometimes, grabs us tightly around the waist, turns us upside down, and shakes us until we are mere shadows of what we once were. Then, just as abruptly, it sets us back in an upright and locked position, only without everything solidly locked back into place.

This is when healing and growth takes place.

It’s hell.

Some of us heal faster than others with the kindness of strangers bestowed upon us. Strangers who find all that which we’ve lost and gift us new things we need to deal with this new “self” we’ve been gifted.

Some of us, even with the kindness of strangers, don’t heal as fast. That’s okay too. It’s frustrating but we are all on our own journey. Your journey will not look like her journey or his journey or even my journey. Sure, we can sit around a campfire, compare notes, and possibly even realize we have some things in common but ultimately, we are all on our own island, struggling to survive.

Technology has made it easier to connect between these islands and created a virtual campfire.

But it’s also made it easier for those who don’t support us to fling vicious words our way as we share and reach out for the support we so desperately need. [Read more...]

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Show, Don’t Tell: The Fine Art of Advocacy

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Writing with InkShow, don’t tell.

This is one of the greatest tenets any writer has drilled into them at an early age.

Show, don’t tell.

Show us the action. Do not describe the tree, show us the verdant ferocity with which it lived -through calm, sunny days as well as through the darkest storms with sopping rainfall, making its roots cling even deeper into the earth beneath it. Make the tree’s yellow and spotted leaves tickle your reader’s cheeks even though they sit wrapped in a soft blanket in the safety of their living room devouring loquacious artistry. Convince them to scour the landscape to find this tree as it sheds its leaves for the last time, weeping that it will not survive to burst forth into a new spring.

Breathe life into your scenes. Do not describe them. Instead, cradle each word, hold it to your mouth, and make it rise and fall with your breath. Quicken the pace of your reader’s pulse as their knees buckle and they fall to the ground when your story reaches it denouement. As your reader leaves your words behind,  you want them dizzy with passion, filled with a yearning for more of your spirit.

Show, don’t tell.

One of the most difficult tenets to put into practice yet one which is absolutely necessary to transform any piece of writing from mundane to spectacular. It is far easier to tell someone to “Show, don’t tell,” than it is to put it into practice.

When we show instead of tell, we bring our readers into our world. We create a connection with them which allows them to utter the words, “Me too” aloud to no one in particular. The best writing may not be the most critically acclaimed or the most perfectly executed but that which fosters a strong connection because the author has been where the reader now finds themselves.

Why is this important? [Read more...]

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