What if you’re not better?

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Last week was a big week here at Postpartum Progress. It was the site’s 10th anniversary, and therefore the 10th anniversary of Katherine’s start as a powerful advocate for women with postpartum depression and similar mood disorders. In celebrating that anniversary, you may have seen stories from a whole list of women who credit Katherine and her work with saving their lives and getting them to where they are today.

But what if you’re not better? What if you’re still fighting PPD?

Being exposed to a slew of stories from people who did recover and who are better while you’re not can leave you with questions of, “Why me?” Or, “Why not me? Why are they better when I’m not?”

You may feel as though you have done everything you’re supposed to and it hasn’t worked. You might wonder why it’s seemingly easy for some people but not for you. And you might look at all that celebrating and feel like giving up.

What I want you to know is this: You will get better.

What I can’t tell you is when that will happen or what will work or how you will know you’re past the worst of it.

All of us who have struggled and who can now say things like, “You saved my life” walked a long road to get there. We had good days and bad days and a glimmer of light before the darkness enveloped us again. We tried things that didn’t work and then found some that did. For some it may have been relatively easy, while others fought hard and long.

winding path through trees

None of that may be reassuring for you, I know. You might be tired of fighting. You might feel bitter that life has tossed you something that requires so much work and energy and effort to get past. Or you might just not be able to see your own glimmer of light.

You don’t have to just trust that it will eventually be okay. I guess what I want you to know is that it’s okay if you look at the happy stories and want to throw something against your screen. It’s okay to be angry that your story is not among them, at least not yet.

So keep going, dear Warrior Mom. Keep fighting. Ask those of us on the other side for help, and we’ll be waiting here with open arms when you get here and are ready to share your own success story.

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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.

 

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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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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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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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