[Editor’s Note: This past week, Postpartum Progress attended NatCon16, held March 7-9th in Las Vegas. Our Program Manager for Education and Training was invited by the National Council for Behavioral Health to attend as a “Twitter Ambassador,” live-tweeting sessions and events. We were honored to attend and thrilled to be asked to bring the patient perspective to what is the largest conference on behavioral and addiction health care in the United States. If you missed our live stream, you can catch up with these Storify collections on the following sessions tweeted by Susan Petcher and others during the event on the National Council’s website. -Jenna]
During the very first session of NatCon16, I slipped into the fourth row from the back, one of over 4,000 attendees, and felt tiny and insignificant. I listened in wonderment to NCBH President and CEO Linda Rosenburg as she opened up the annual conference for behavioral and addiction healthcare, staring at my NatCon badge and backstage pass. After all, only seven years ago, I was a crumpled shell of myself, sobbing on the floor next to the brown Graco bassinet after screaming at my newborn baby to “JUST GO TO SLEEP!”
Linda spoke of the progress and momentum of the last ten years, and I found myself tweeting this:
— Susan (@learndhappiness) March 7, 2016
I have to admit; a part of me wondered why I belonged in the room. 4,000 clinicians, directors of organizations, political leaders, and experts on mental illness surrounded me, and I was just a mom, just a PPD survivor. I was just somebody who had once been a patient. Though Postpartum Progress was invited by the National Council to broadcast the sessions to the social media world, I was facing a serious case of impostor syndrome.
That all changed when I got a text from a friend and fellow Warrior Mom, checking in and reminding me that she believed in me. In that moment, I was empowered, yet again, by this amazing community, and reminded that we can do great things. I thought of each and every writer who came before me on the Postpartum Progress blog, the moms whose words saved my life. I thought of each Climb Out of the Darkness® team leader and climber and each Warrior Mom® Conference attendee and was reminded of their courage and kindness.
We do big, brave, amazing things here at Postpartum Progress, and we absolutely deserved a seat at the table. And so, I soaked up every moment, every introduction, and every opportunity to brag about the work of my peers.
NatCon is an enormous event, with over 180 sessions, and over 4,000 attendees. Session tracks included Peer, Prevention, & Recovery (which was the track we live-tweeted), Trauma-Informed Care, Workforce Management, Public Policy, Population Health, Crisis Response, Criminal Justice, and Children and Youth. Five Twitter Ambassadors covered the various tracks, splitting up the schedule, and meeting occasionally to check in and share what we learned. I am so grateful for the generous and kind leadership at the National Council for bringing us together and for their support throughout the event. I expected to leave NatCon with professional connections, but am pleased to have also brought home friendships.
As I live-tweeted sessions about hope and wellness, the origins of Mental Health First Aid (with the two founders!), the importance of the patient voice in the mission to break down stigma, the power of introverts in a world that values extroversion, partnering with faith communities, the science of addition, and more, I was struck by the message of whole-person treatment that echoed again and again. This is something we know well at Postpartum Progress, Warrior Moms. You are more than your PMAD, and you deserve to be well. I’ll talk more about this idea in Part Two of our NatCon16 coverage later this week.
As the message of person-centered behavioral healthcare grew stronger, I grew bolder in my role as an Ambassador for both the National Council and Postpartum Progress. I shook hands with the amazing Elyn Saks, known from her TED Talk with over 2.7 million views, telling her how grateful I was for her message of patient empowerment, and sharing about our work at Postpartum Progress. I visited with Natasha West from Stamp Out Stigma about the power of social media and sharing our stories. I thanked Dr. Ann Becker-Schutte for her contributions to #PPDChat seven years ago that helped save my life, and I cried in front of New York Times columnist Charles Blow after asking him to speak to the doubts of a Warrior Mom that she would ever be more than “forever broken.”
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) March 8, 2016
Of course, I felt most at ease with my fellow advocates and those who know what it’s like to live with a mental illness. Jenn Marshall, the co-founder of This is My Brave; Allen Doederlein, President of DBSA; and Patrick Lawson from 3Words all greeted me with the kind of hugs only another survivor can give. They immediately recognized a shared vision and dogged commitment to peer support and advocacy, and the time I spent with them inspired a million ideas even as I made the long journey back home to my family.
I want you to know, Warrior Moms, that our voice was heard last week. Our messages of empowerment and peer support was received with respect and news of all you do was met with awe. We even made the NatCon Times both Tuesday and Wednesday during the conference!
What you do every day, whether it’s taking a deep breath and taking care of yourself as you fight through your own struggle, or reaching out to another family in need matters. And after attending NatCon16, I’m even more convinced of the need for us to speak up and share not only our stories, but also our amazing work.
Many thanks to the staff of the National Council for Behavioral Health for the opportunity to attend the conference and represent Postpartum Progress, with special thanks to Alicia Aebersold, Meaghon Reid, Besty Schwartz, Ali Siemianowski, and Hannah Coen.