Finding Hope Out of the Darkness

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I have a feeling you’ve probably heard, but…The Climb Out of the Darkness, the world’s largest (and most fun!) event raising awareness of postpartum depression, anxiety, psychosis and pregnancy depression is coming this June to benefit Postpartum Progress Inc., the registered 501c3 nonprofit organization founded by the amazing Katherine Stone. (Yes, Katherine you are amazing! Am I right ladies?!)

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LEARN MORE: If on the off chance you haven’t heard about the climb, you can find a handy Overview HERE.

REGISTRATION: Would you like to participate? Register HERE by June 2, 2014.

MAP OF CLIMBS: Want to see  a map of the currently planned climbs all over the world? Yes I said WORLD. There are currently 86 scheduled climbs in 5 countries (Switzerland, Canada, US, UK, Australia). Map available HERE. If you don’t see one near you, you can still coordinate your very own climb in your hometown. Let us know!

I personally just love the visual and feelings “climb out of the darkness” evokes. It so perfectly describes us warrior moms fighting our way out of the darkness of postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar and psychosis and finding our own light and strength on the other side.

Thinking about this upcoming Climb Out of the Darkness, I wanted to share my thoughts. I have a lot of experience doing charity events, and while charity climbs and walks  are just that — events to raise funds and awareness – I know they can be so much more to us on our healing journeys. They have been for me.

While in the throws of my own postpartum mental health crisis in 2010, a dear lifelong friend of mine took her own life. It threw me for an even bigger loop, but it was then that I began blogging about mental health and suicide prevention as part of my healing process. Its also the time that I found Postpartum Progress and joined Katherine’s community of Warrior Moms. Its why I’m on PP’s Warrior Mom Leadership Team, and why I regularly donate to Postpartum Progress, Inc., and its why I also actively volunteer, walk and raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Both of these non-profits speak directly to my personal passions and my own experiences with mental illness. And they both do incredible work. I visibly see each making a difference in so many lives, especially mine.

Doing a climb or a walk for any organization you hold dear can be a life-changing experience. Its where we build community with others who understand. At a Climb Out of the Darkness you will be with others who have been there. They just get it. You may even connect with a mother who has never shared her story, but on the journey of your climb she may finally have the strength to share her story with you. How powerful is that? And I’m willing to bet you will make lifelong friends too.

Back in 2010 when I lost my friend, another woman Jenni also lost her dear friend Kristi to postpartum depression. We had never met, but somehow through the miracle of social media met via Twitter. Several months later she flew cross country to visit her in-laws in Seattle and we got together for lunch. Three-hours later and we were friends for life.

When in 2013 I decided to do the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Washington DC, I encouraged Jenni to join me. This is a BIG 17 mile walk literally overnight from dusk till dawn, so not an easy task. But she agreed to do it and we both went. Participating in that event changed my life. I walked with Jenni and several other women I met for the first time in DC. We walked an entire night together pushing ourselves physically and sharing ourselves emotionally. It might sound corny, but it seriously was like a giant hug of love and support.

I don’t think its an accident that both Postpartum Progress and the AFSP use the profound phrase “out of the darkness” to describe their mental health events. It feels like kismet to me.

I’m actually doing The Overnight again this year, this time in Seattle, and once again Jenni is flying cross country to join me. Our friendship, support and healing journey continues.

I think yours can too if you participate in the Postpartum Progress Climb Out of the Darkness this June.

I hope you can join us!

Note: Most Climb events will be held on Saturday, June 21st. A handful will be held Sunday the 22nd or the weekend prior to or following June 21st. Check the Climb map to get specific details on each event. 

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Join Climb Out of the Darkness 2014 – World’s Largest Event for Moms with PPD & More

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Climb Out of the Darkness 2014Well friends. It’s that time of the year. I’m so excited! Registration is now open to the public for Climb Out of the Darkness™ 2014.

New here? Wondering what Climb Out of the Darkness is? It’s the world’s largest event raising awareness of postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and OCD, postpartum psychosis and pregnancy depression and anxiety. The event was created by and benefits Postpartum Progress Inc., a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization that raises awareness and supports pregnant and new moms with maternal mental illness.

Women around the world participate in this grassroots event by going on a hike, climb or walk outside on the longest day of the year (June 21st) to shine a light on PPD and related illnesses. The event is open to anyone and everyone who supports our cause. Anyone can participate, as long as they register, and registration is free.

There isn’t a single Climb, but many being held throughout the world. To participate in Climb Out of the Darkness™, you have several options:

  1. You can join a group Climb. Group Climbs are open to all. To see the current list of Climbs and join one in your area, check out our Climb map here. Then register here, and be sure to click “Join A Team” and select the city location for your Climb during registration from the drop down list. We already have 85 teams in 34 states and 5 countries, so check them out!
  2. You can choose to do an individual Climb. This means you plan to go on a Climb by yourself, or just privately with your own family or friends, and prefer not to join a larger group of women you don’t know.  Just pick the spot where you plan to Climb and then register by clicking “Fundraise as an individual” in the registration process.
  3. You can start and lead a group Climb. If you’d like to be a Climb leader in your area and allow others to join, go for it!  Group Climbs are groups of approximately 10 or more. As a Climb leader – we like to call them Sherpas! – your responsibilities will include recruiting participants to your Climb and encouraging fundraising and team spirit. Just indicate when you register that you’re click Create a Climb, and then name your team based on the state and city of your Climb (for example, Georgia – Atlanta, Alaska – Anchorage or Texas – Austin). We’re happy to email you a team leader guide if you just send us an email to postpartumprogress [at] gmail [dot] com. Team Climbs can be created anytime between now and May 15, 2014. Just please make sure to look at the map first and check if there’s a Climb already in your area before you create one. 

Registration for Climb Out of the Darkness 2014 is being hosted by Crowdrise. So go here NOW!!, and register by clicking the blue button. Be a part of something BIG!!!! We can’t wait to Climb with you.

For more info:  Climb Out of the Darkness FAQ

To sponsor: Climb Out of the Darkness Local & National Sponsorship Info

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A Story of Postpartum Bipolar Disorder

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After the birth of my 2nd child Ellie, my mental health changed dramatically. I started to have symptoms of mania, which until then had not presented themselves. After going through what I thought was postpartum depression and anxiety, I’ve come to understand that it was probably postpartum bipolar disorder.

It is a diagnosis that until recently had not been studied. But in 2012, here on Postpartum Progress, Katherine asked perinatal mood and anxiety expert Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW to write about this often misdiagnosed postpartum illness, and that information really made me think.

I’ve now seen this study from 2013 that shows women with clinical depression prior to childbirth have a much greater chance of being diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder, so I believe its time for the medical community to be more aware of this possible outcome, and take steps to properly diagnose and treat women who are fighting this illness.

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Today, I’ve invited Dyane Leshin-Harwood to share her journey with Postpartum Bipolar Disorder. I’m interested to hear if you too identify with her experience like I do. Please welcome Dyane:

On a warm summer night, I was a sweaty nine months pregnant when my water broke. We immediately went to the hospital and I stayed up all night in labor, not sleeping one wink.

This innocent-sounding act – enduring one night without sleep — would be my biochemical trigger for postpartum bipolar disorder.

Despite a strong family history of bipolar, I didn’t have any inkling that mental illness was latent in me. My first daughter Avonlea had been born almost two years earlier, and I was incredibly fortunate that I did not have a postpartum mood disorder after her birth.

My second daughter Marilla was born at noon, on August 26, 2007. At first I was hypo-manic, exuberant with joy over the birth, but to others I appeared relatively normal. Sweet Marilla attracted most of the attention so no one saw that I was already in trouble. I began to sense something was off, but my fear of being an inept mother caused me to keep my feelings inside.

Since we didn’t have family members immediately available to us, my mother gave us the gift of a postpartum doula named Grace. She planned to be with us after Marilla’s birth, but an unanticipated allergic reaction delayed her joining us by four days. As Grace hadn’t previously known my personality, she didn’t realize that my manic behavior was quite different from how I had been before the birth. She had worked with over 150 mothers and while some of them suffered from postpartum depression, none had experienced postpartum mania like I did.

The deceptive part of postpartum mania is that people often think the new mother is simply happy to have a baby. After Marilla’s birth, I was filled with an overwhelming amount of joy and energy. However, not one of my state-of-the-art maternity center nurses, OB-GYNs, or our pediatrician detected my mania right away. My father had bipolar one disorder, and I had suffered clinical depression ten years prior to Marilla’s birth, but still no one noticed.

During my hypomanic state, I could feel my brain thinking much, much faster than it had before. I also had a very rare condition triggered called hypergraphia, which is compulsive writing. I had been a freelance writer for years, but this kind of writing was totally different.

Once I returned home from the hospital, I simply could not stop writing. I wrote at every opportunity, even during breastfeeding, and it was completely bizarre. I went online and typed lengthy emails to friends. I didn’t realize my friends would see the actual time I sent their emails, and some of them later told me they were puzzled that I was writing such lengthy epistles in the wee hours, night after night.

During my sleepless nights postpartum, in a well-meaning effort my husband hid my laptop. As he slept, I cleaned for a good part of the night as quietly as I could. While I scrubbed countertops and organized drawers at 3 a.m., I yearned to have some semblance of peace and balance in my life.

After I barely slept for many days in a row, I was feeling much the way I imagined a coke addict would feel. I was revving with energy, but I also felt exhausted and on the brink of an emotional outburst. But even then, no one thought I should consult a psychiatrist.

During that fateful postpartum week, my brain chemistry was markedly awry in every part of my body. Apart from cleaning the house, I had the other classic signs of mania: tons of energy, pressured speech, no appetite and weight loss. I couldn’t sit still, so my mania also affected my ability to adequately breastfeed my baby. At Marilla’s one-week check-up we discovered her weight had dropped almost a pound.

After almost a week without sleep, I knew that I was sinking fast and something needed to change. I called my OB/GYN and told her medical assistant I couldn’t sleep and was given a sleep-aid. I then called our local Postpartum “Warmline”  and found the number disconnected! I was incredulous that such an important hotline had vanished. I called information asking if they had some kind of a postpartum support line. The operator couldn’t find a number and I got even more discouraged. Finally, I called our local maternity hospital’s lactation center and they gave me the number of the Postpartum Support International (PSI) Bay Area hotline.

The PSI volunteer encouraged me to take the medication to help me sleep. I felt so comforted in speaking with someone who understood how difficult the postpartum period was, and I took that first sleeping pill. I got the first decent night’s sleep in five nights and I felt a little rested the following day.

A month after Marilla was born, I knew I was still manic; after all, I had witnessed mania firsthand in my Dad. But before I told anyone, including my husband, I surfed the internet looking for anything related to postpartum mania. I located a statistic that one in one thousand mothers who give birth will have postpartum mania. Then the name “Dr. Alice W. Flaherty”appeared in my search results. She was a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, a Harvard professor, and author of The Midnight Disease, an examination of the drive to write, writer’s block and the creative brain.

In her book, Dr. Flaherty courageously shares her own experience with hypergraphia, the heartbreaking death of her newborn twins, and her hospitalization for a postpartum mood disorder. I had the gut feeling that this woman could help me. After contacting her, she shared how medication had helped her postpartum mania, and suggested I consider supplementing with formula for my mental health, which I did.

At Marilla’s six-week checkup, her pediatrician listened to my racing voice and and blurted out “You’re manic!” and I burst into tears. While I felt embarrassed and ashamed, a part of me felt relieved that he figured out what was happening with me. From that point on, my mental condition deteriorated and it was clear I needed hospitalization. It broke my heart to leave my family, but I admitted myself into our local hospital’s mental health unit. It was there I was officially diagnosed with bipolar one disorder and I took my first mood stabilizer.

I feel that it’s imperative the doctors and other caregivers who assess women for postpartum depression also screen them for hypomanic or manic symptoms. My two daughters and husband have suffered immeasurably due to my postpartum bipolar disorder. But they have also witnessed my hard-won recovery.

After several years of trying many medications, multiple hospitalizations and even two courses of electroconvulsive therapy, I am finally stable. Bipolar disorder ravages many relationships, but Craig and I have been married for fifteen years. With the guidance of counselors and psychiatrists, our marriage is stronger and more precious than ever before.

With any mood disorder, community support can be incredibly helpful. That’s why I’m so glad you’ve found Postpartum Progress. Life will always be a challenge living with bipolar disorder, but my girls have inspired me to work on my recovery with every ounce of my being. I hope you will too.

Dyane is member of the International Bipolar Foundation’s Consumer Advisory Board and IBF blogger at ibf.org. She is working on her first book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder and blogs at “Birth of a New Brain” at www.proudlybipolar.wordpress.com.

P.S. March 30th is World Bipolar Day. Visit here for more information on how you can become involved.

 

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14 Tips for Mamas with Past Sexual Trauma

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As I teen, I experienced a date rape. It was a one time incident, but it rocked my mental health in ways I never knew possible. In fact, its the event that brought my chronic mental illness to the surface. It affected my self image and sexuality in ways I don’t care to admit.

I never considered that one time thing could have also impacted me during the process of getting pregnant, birthing my children, and the subsequent postpartum depression and anxiety that resulted. But after recently discussing it during the #sexabusechat on Twitter (Tuesdays at 9pm ET/6pm PT) , I started to think about it in a different light.

These kinds of sexual assaults are so common, and I’m willing to bet a lot of you are shaking your heads right now because it happened to you too. I spoke about it once at a retreat and afterward several women came up to tell me they had lived through it too.

I’m also quite sure a few more of you have also experienced more long-term childhood sexual abuse. Its sadly way too common, and when you’ve lived through that kind of pain, it can absolutely have a lasting impact on your lifelong sexual experiences, pregnancy and motherhood.

So I reached out to Kathy Morelli, a Licensed Professional Counselor and author who focuses on Holistic Counseling for Maternal Mental Health, Family Systems and trauma from sexual abuse and medical intervention. Today she’s sharing with us how we can start to move beyond sexual abuse before and during motherhood.

So without further ado, I want to welcome Kathy to Postpartum Progress.

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Childhood sexual abuse and a woman’s subsequent reproductive years, including menstruation, pregnancy, birth and ongoing sexuality, occurs years or even decades apart. Yet, in my clinical practice, I have found these issues to be intertwined.

Sexual themes resonate with a woman on multiple levels: within her body, her emotions and her psychology. And distress from childhood sexual abuse can resurface during the emotionally and hormonally charged time of pregnancy and postpartum. What research exists, finds that women who suffered from childhood sexual abuse have an elevated risk of postpartum depression, besides other physical and emotional symptoms.

Related triggers around reproductive health:

During Pregnancy

Body-based feelings in pregnancy can be re-triggering to a woman who has deep, somatic memories of childhood sexual abuse. Simple things such as the position of your body during vaginal exams can bring back emotional memories of past abuse.  The baby moving inside your body might cause intense joy, but might also create an underlying uneasiness.

During Birth

Childbirth is an intense experience; a time of hormonal, physical and emotional exertion.  Early trauma can be triggered by a particular scent for example, or a body position.  If you feel powerless, not heard, or disregarded by your healthcare providers during childbirth, it can activate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress and flashbacks of your past trauma.

During Postpartum

There are many physical, emotional and psychological factors feeding your emotional health during this time. And it’s true that a pre-existing personal depressive or anxiety disorder, or pre-existing PTSD, sets your body up for another episode postpartum.

Intense physical and hormonal changes, plus adjusting to a new lifestyle caring for an infant is physically and emotionally challenging. Feelings of frustration emerge as you adjust your schedule to accommodate your baby. The endless touching may leave you feeling like your body isn’t your own anymore. Breastfeeding may feel triggering to some, as it too may cause confusing sexual feelings.

So what can you do to proactively manage your mental health during these phases of motherhood?

First, I want you to know that your childhood sexual abusive does NOT define you. Your past does NOT have to be your destiny. With perseverance, you can move beyond being a survivor towards thriving and blooming beautifully.

It’s not an easy task, but your self-esteem is worth the fight! Managing the effects of an abusive childhood is an on-going deeply personal experience.  It’s honorable life work, and highly individualized. As you move along your healing path, you’ll choose what’s right for you.

Tips to help enhance your experience of pregnancy, birth and postpartum:

  1. Recognize that post-traumatic stress is a real disorder, not some fake diagnosis.

  2. Practice Self-Love. Self-love is not just an empty cliché, it’s something worth fighting for. Allow yourself to rest and be gentle with yourself during all three stages of motherhood.

  3. Try to make time to get help with a licensed mental health professional before pregnancy. It’s best to put in your emotional work before starting a family, but it can also be done if you are already pregnant or postpartum (see below.) It’s never too late to begin.

  4. Face your fears and past, at your own pace, in a safe and professional environment.

  5. Work with a gynecologist/obstetrics/midwifery provider with whom you feel comfortable enough to discuss your history of trauma. Investigate the hospital or birth center where your provider practices to make sure it’s the right fit for you. If your provider or institution don’t meet your needs, you are empowered to find another. It’s important to advocate for your own health care.

  6. Find an experienced childbirth educator who is accepting of your personal choices. Birthing and breastfeeding classes really do help on an emotional level as well.

  7. Remember that birth is an unpredictable experience. If your birth experience doesn’t follow your birth plan, you can still feel good about it. You are not less of a woman or mother, no matter how your birth happens.

  8. Honor the achievement of childbirth and motherhood. You are growing a life! That is a huge accomplishment.

  9. Understand that your hormonal balance takes at least three months after birth to come back to pre-pregnancy levels.

  10. Honor and protect yourself during “the fourth trimester” and beyond, as your body shift towards balance:

    1. Rest; develop the mindset of being, not doing.

    2. Practice good nutrition with whole foods and good supplements.

    3. Get help.  If you can afford it, set up some time with a postpartum doula or a baby nurse so you can rest. Enlist the help of family or friends. You don’t have to do this on your own.

    4. Don’t underestimate the power of sleep. Work out a sleep plan. Even if you are breastfeeding, don’t be the only one getting up to feed the baby.

    5. Practice mindfulness and relaxation to counteract the inevitable challenges of caring for a newborn and the emotional change of identity in motherhood

  11. Nurture yourself with complementary care. Safe touch such as shiatsu and acupuncture can re-balance your body and mind.

  12. Expect some emotional ups and downs and realize these are normal.

  13. Social support is important. Women who “Tend and Befriend” in real life and online feel supported.

  14. If you feel very sad or anxious, there is a lot of professional help available to you. You are not less of a mother if you see a doctor or therapist. Taking care of you makes you a better mother.

A beautiful book about healing from child sexual abuse that I highly recommend is “A River of Forgetting” by Jane Rowan.

If you had the experience of childhood sexual abuse, know that post-traumatic growth is possible. Don’t wait to honor yourself by doing the emotional work. You can ask for and get help. You and your family are worth it.

And know that you are not alone.

Reference:

Perez-Fuentes, G., Olfson, M., Villegas, L., Morcillo, C., Wang, S. & Blanco, C., (2013). Prevalence and correlates of child sexual abuse: a national study. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 5(1), 16-27. 

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The Importance of Screening and Support: Jenna’s Story, Part 2

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fighting postpartum depression, Warrior MomJenna’s story differs from my own in one key area: support.  She did not receive the support she so desperately needed from her husband.  Warrior Mamas need our support and love.  Jenna needed to hear that she was not alone and that she would get well.  My husband told me that he would do whatever it took to help me get better. That unwavering support helped me so much.   

With my Postpartum Depression and anxiety continuing undiagnosed, I became more and more emotionally detached from my family. I couldn’t handle everyday life without reacting to even the smallest things in explosive anger. And as soon as I flew off the handle, the shame from my out of proportion reaction punched me in the gut. I felt helpless to react any other way, and the spiral of shame was almost paralyzing. I felt unsupported, misunderstood, and like I was a failure as a mom and a wife every single day. But you would never have known, because my facade was one of a happy, pulled together, suburban wife and mom. If other women could do it all by themselves, I didn’t want them to think I couldn’t keep it together. So I kept silent, soldiered on, and gave up thinking that life could be any different.

 My PPD and anxiety went untreated for a total of almost 7 years, by which time I’d had two more children with my ex. Eventually the rage, dissociation, self-loathing and isolation became more than I could bear.  I couldn’t stand the numb, closed off feeling any more, and something had to give. I decided that my children and I deserved a better quality of life. So, I went against my then-husband’s wishes and made an appointment with my family doctor. I didn’t go into any depth about the severity of my emotional issues, but casually inquired whether rage and detachment were possible features of depression. Without much discussion, I was prescribed my very first anti-depressant, and it quelled the rage substantially.  

Unfortunately, the intrusive thoughts and anxiety continued to exhaust me at night, and a few months later, I approached my doctor about additional medication. I was prescribed an anti-psychotic, and I have to tell you, that first pill was really difficult to take. For the first time in a very long time, the intrusive thoughts that had plagued me went completely away. Every night for all those years, I’d panicked about being murdered in my sleep, and my children being kidnapped because I didn’t deserve to be their mom.  Every night, there was a video loop in my head that replayed my failures as a wife and a mom.  With the additional medication came a degree of apathy and some significant weight gain, but it was still a relief.

 I no longer live in that place of crippling overwhelm, and not just because of the medication.  I sought out a therapist on my own, and I eventually weaned off all of the medications I was taking. In the couple of years since my diagnoses of depression and anxiety, I’ve come to a place of peace with who I am as woman and as a mom. I know my limitations for dealing with stress as well as sleep deprivation. I started making self-care a priority. I’ve (mostly) stopped comparing myself, my parenting skills, and my particular children to others. As my confidence has grown and my healing has continued, I’ve done a lot more sharing, a lot more reaching out, and a lot more self-analysis. I’m involved with the PPD community on Facebook and make time to read blogs authored by women who suffer with Postpartum Mood Disorders. I have a support system now. Those closest to me (including my boyfriend of 18 months) are familiar with anxiety and depression.  After dealing with so much on my own, it’s important to me that I can be real with those I allow close to me, and that they get me, can identify with my struggles, and respect my story.  I can trust them to encourage me, and when I feel ashamed, they can remind me that it takes strength to reach out and be vulnerable. Trusting people who can give validation to my emotions has been instrumental in my healing and helps a lot with my day to day stability.

I’ve often wondered how I survived those dark, lonely years when I was coping with PPD and PPA on my own. It was certainly by the grace of a higher power. Having traced the onset of my symptoms back to my second pregnancy, I also wonder whether my quality of life might have been better if I’d been screened for PPMDs during my pregnancy or at any of those six week checkups. The truth may be that I’d have hidden my feelings from my provider, if I’m honest.  I would have at least had the opportunity to decide whether I wanted to reach out if anyone had asked. 

Thank you so much Jenna for sharing your story.  I appreciate it so much.  Again listening and validating a Warrior Mom’s struggles is so key to stomp out the stigma that surrounds perinatal mood disorders.  Consistent screening coupled with strong social support can help ease the struggles of Warrior Moms.

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