When Postpartum Depression Makes You a Stranger to Yourself

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for p p dSeeing someone struggling through postpartum depression and anxiety cracks my heart wide open. I don’t care if I’m a stranger to them or not, I want to take their hands into mine and tell them to trust me.

I want them to believe me when I tell them I have been where they are, in that frightening place when you’re filled more with fear and pain than strength. When you look in the mirror and don’t recognize the person looking back.

I want them to listen when I say that I have lived in the skin they are in now, when you are not who you used to be.

I have walked through those days, those hard days, when you’re too frightened to look anyone in the eye because you don’t want them to see straight through to the dark despair and hopelessness that fill your head.

I have been there. The days of pulling clothes out of the closet and letting them fall over my body, wondering where the person is who used to wear them. I remember sitting in the driver’s seat of my car and it didn’t feel like it belonged to the person who now sat there.

These days are anything but easy. Living through postpartum depression is harder than we can ever explain. We struggle to give words to the choking jumble of our thoughts. We want to be heard, but when someone asks us to tell them how they can help, we can only break down in tears.

Postpartum depression is a wall that hides our strength from us. It won’t let light in so we are unable to see how tough we are. The dark clouds of this time block the real view, the one that would show our determination to get better.

We are still there, behind the empty sadness in our eyes, there is the fight and fire we need to recover. We are imperfect in this life, we are lost, confused and we are more scared than we have ever been. When our lives become survival for one moment at a time, our souls can’t rest to see the beautiful spirit of survival that lives within us.

I want those in the heartbreaking midst of postpartum depression to trust me, as hard as it is. We need to believe that inside we have what we need to make it through. It’s a leap of faith, a desperate grab at hope, but it’s necessary.

I want them to hear this message of hope, so that they fight, so that they keep fighting. Because it is the promise of hope that someone asked me to believe in during my own postpartum depression, that saved me.

You will see this through to the other side.
You’re not alone.
You will find yourself again.

Someone once promised me that I would be myself again. I was too scared to believe that who I once was, was still there. What if I wasn’t going to get better? What I would have told the frightened new mom that I was back then, would be this, You may feel like you’re in a thousand irretrievable pieces right now–too broken beyond anything that can be made whole again. But believe that you will heal.

You will find happiness again. The numbness will lift one day and you will hear yourself laugh. The sound of it will surprise you so much that you’ll laugh a second time from the joy of it. You will look in the mirror one morning, and this time the eyes you see back will dance and shine. And you will come back stronger than you ever thought you could be.

You are still there, inside.

Even if now you feel lost, scared and alone, you are there.

Please let my words here be the ones that take you by the hand and hold you until you are back home again. Reach out, ask for help, don’t stop until you feel you are getting the care you need. Believe that with time, professional care and treatment, and the support of your PPD community, that the help you need to find the way back to you again will be there.

The incredible you that you used to be is still there. You will find yourself again. And just as I did, you will smile again.

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Warrior Mom Wall Announcement

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pencil-432613_640We all have stories to tell.

Stories filled with victories, with curve balls, and stories filled with heart.

We want YOUR stories on our Warrior Wall at Postpartum Progress’ first Warrior Mom Conference, the first EVER patient-centered maternal mental health conference.

How do you participate, you wonder?

Easy:

Grab some paper. One page only, no larger than 8.5×11 inches.

Write a note of inspiration or a few lines of your story. Draw. Whatever will fit on your chosen paper that you’re inspired to share with us.

Then slap a stamp on that bad boy and mail it to the following address before June 15:

Lauren Hale

P.O. Box 20791

Lehigh Valley, PA 18002-0791

What will happen to it once it’s received?

We’ll be snapping pictures of the artwork/stories and sharing them on the Postpartum Progress Instagram account as they come in*, then all of this lovely Warrior Mail will be organized into a piece of art to be displayed in Boston at the Warrior Mom Conference.

We cannot wait to see what you have to share with us!

 

*Sending in a postcard implies an agreement to allow Postpartum Progress to share and disseminate your submission as we see fit in association with the promotion of the project for which it was submitted as well as for the Warrior Mom Conference, for which the project is a component.

*If your piece incorporates or promotes a website, it will not be included in the Warrior Wall display unless the referral is easily removed from the submission. If you wish to advertise/sponsor the Warrior Mom Conference, please reach out to Susan Petcher at wmc(@)postpartumprogress.org.

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Music as Self-Care

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Music has always been a part of my life.  I realized the depth of my struggles through postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety when I could not recall the last time I played music.  I sang bedtime songs for my daughters, and that was the extent of it.  I grew up in a musical family, and I met my husband doing community theatre.  I remembered the key events of my life through song.  My love language was and still remains music.

My music nerd self totally geeked out when I heard that Natasha Bedingfield had partnered with philosophy to release an original song that is dedicated to people who are facing mental health issues. philosophy became one of the first organizations to focus on mental health and well-being.  They created a hope and grace initiative  to donate at least 1% of their sales toward charity that will support community-based groups that are focused on maternal mental health and well-being.  We applaud these efforts to provide more women with the access, the resources and the awareness of the mental health resources that are available to women in need.

I dedicate these lyrics to my fellow Warrior Moms.

Hope

Remember morning always comes
As night surrenders to the sun
No matter how dark it may become
Don’t stop your light from shining on
‘Cause nothing’s ever over till you say it’s over
And nothing’s ever finished
Not unless you walk away

You see I’ve got hope

Oh oh
I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
Hoooo-ope hooooo-ope, hoooo-ope
I’ve got hope

It’s easier to say you can’t when you know you can,
It’s easier to let go then to hold somebody’s hand
But if you do, then you might just understand yeah
That it’s okay to not know where you’re gonna end

I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way

Ooh oh oh oh oh, you need hope
Oooh oh oh oh oooh, I got hope

You see, I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
I’ve got hope

Give me hope
I need a hand, I need a hand, I need a hand

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Warrior Mom Book Club: Inconsolable by Marrit Ingman

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Inconsolable book coverThe following is a conversation between members of the Warrior Mom Book Club after reading Inconsolable by Marrit Ingman, the latest in our maternal-mental-health-related reads. You can visit the author’s website at http://www.marrit.info/.

Welcome to the Warrior Mom Book Club interview based upon the book Inconsolable by Marrit Ingman. We appreciate those who read along, and especially those who took the time to discuss this book.

AKP: On pages 9 and 10 (and throughout the book) Ingman writes about cultural impacts on the understanding of PPD. Did you recognize any specific cultural impacts in your experience? Are there specific cultural changes that you would most like to see that may have a more positive impact on understanding PPD and providing care for new mothers and families?

SRK:  I haven’t seen/experienced too many of the cultural impacts due to my background. But getting involved with the Warrior Mom group and speaking with other mothers who have experienced a PMAD, I have realized that in a lot of other cultures it could be even harder to speak up. I feel that to make a positive impact there needs to be more accurate information readily available to mothers, and treatment needs to be covered (more completely) by insurance. It shouldn’t be that the only way you get help is if your symptoms are severe enough to be admitted to a hospital due to your PPD.

AKP: Absolutely. I see this with so many women who reach out to me in person or via social media/email re: treatment resources. I hate that those who do not have extensive financial resources generally receive a lack of effective treatment or opt to wait it out, almost always resulting in a prolonged illness and many more complicated issues.

CX: I personally did experience some differences depending on culture. Some of my family is first generation to this country and felt that this is “just something you get over” and didn’t understand the real-life implications of how serious PPD really is. I also mentored a girl who is first generation from the Dominican and her family had those same feelings. They did not support her at all and often said “toughen up.” They were very against medication as well. She did a lot of her treatment in secrecy from her family. I fortunately had very supportive parents, so that was not the case for me. I believe there is definitely a cultural stigma.

BR: As a full-time employed professional, I live in a culture where 6 weeks is reinforced as the appropriate time for a new mother to take off from work to heal from labor and birth and transition to life with a newborn, through the offered FMLA benefit following a birth. And I feel fortunate that I have that “benefit” from my employer. But 6 weeks is hardly enough to heal and transition into the new life of parenthood. And for many Warrior Moms, they might not even begin to experience symptoms of a PPMD until well beyond that 6 weeks. And many parents don’t even get that time (my husband had to use his sick and vacation time). I think we as a culture and society need to work harder to meet the needs of new families while also protecting the rights of parents to be active in the work place. I think our understanding of the postpartum period of 6 weeks as a period of “short term disability” is not accurate and does not provide families with the opportunity to build a grounded base to support the growth of a healthy family. I think we need to provide more paid leave to the parent who gives birth, as well as the partner or other support person who may be offering care. (I’m less familiar to benefits provided to adoptive parents, but would support the same amount of time.) I think that should be a given, and not just a “benefit” to people employed in jobs that provide such benefits. Allowing a longer period of supported and nurturing time to adjust and heal would acknowledge the major shift of being coming a parent and support the health and wellness of all family members.

AKP: Speaking of support, in the Chapter titled “Are You Okay” Ingman focuses on the power of connecting with others in genuine and caring ways. Recognizing how hard this can be, has it been part of your recovery experience (initiating or receiving the outreach)? What are your thoughts on this general idea?

SRK: Since experiencing PPD I have made it a point to be open and honest about it. I wasn’t able to talk about it at first, but after receiving treatment and beginning to get better I decided to start speaking at a luncheon for new moms at our local hospital. A few other mothers and I speak about our experiences so we can put a face to PPD and show other moms that it can happen to anyone. Speaking out has helped me regain my confidence and has shown me that so many people do suffer but never admit it. I would like to try to help change that, so that more mothers/families will be willing to get the help they deserve.

CX: I found this chapter difficult to read as I looked back on my own experiences with asking people how they are doing, if they are OK. It is extremely difficult to approach someone, never mind a complete stranger. Even when people asked me that loaded question, I would just fake a smile and answer with a yes. However, I really do wish someone had gotten into the true detailed questions that I was waiting for someone to ask. The first time I became public with this was not until Climb out of the Darkness. One of the hardest decisions to make, but I found after I came out about my experiences, it’s easier to ask others about theirs. I still find it difficult to initiate but I have been able to direct some people in the right direction to get the help they needed.

BR: I craved this when I was at my darkest times. I wanted someone to be able to ask me that question in a genuine way and really be able to get in my experience with me and unburden me of some of my pain. I got closest to that through a connection to another PPD mom that I made through our shared pediatrician who recognized my need for such a connection. I know my family and friends were trying to offer genuine caring, but I found it hard to interpret their gestures in the same way as from someone who I felt could relate more fully to my experience. I think my pain and sense of isolation didn’t always allow me to fully embrace the care they offered.

AKP: On page 52, Ingman writes of an encounter when she identifies herself as still postpartum many months after she gave birth. She then poses the question, “Does a woman ever stop being postpartum?” What does this statement mean to you, and how do you think it connects to PPD/ maternal mental health?

SRK: I think it is a great question. I don’t really know when you stop being postpartum, but I know that PPD doesn’t always happen immediately. I also know that some doctors will disregard your anxiety/depression if they think it has been too long.

CX: Before getting PPD, I had no idea it could last “officially” a year. After getting treatment, I thought PPD ended at that magical one-year mark. However, I did not feel myself until almost 2 years later. I do wonder if you always feel “postpartum” or different from your old self, but hopefully it is not in a bad way. We all change throughout our lives and I look at this as a very dark time in my life that I fought through! I also think this shows that many of us (myself included, not having gotten treatment until my daughter was 6 months old) do not get help soon enough. We wait, we put it off, we put everything else first. Maternal mental health is not as strong as it should be or needs to be. Just ask someone what that terms means and many have no idea.

BR: For me, becoming a mom and journeying through PPD/PPA had major impact on my identity and understanding of myself and my life. I interpret her question as reflecting on a similar process – that the time after the birth of a child/the postpartum period doesn’t just stop after a number of weeks or months or a year. It ushers in an entirely new phase of life that impacts every element of living. Recognizing that honors that immense responsibility and power of becoming a mother.

AKP: I agree that she is implying that being a PPD survivor means both you may forever feel “postpartum” in the way that once you have such a life-changing experience your lens shifts to one that is through that set of circumstances. I also think there is a point at which we stop being in the midst of PPD, and then move on to recover, and then to a next phase that really can empower us as mothers, having not only adjusted to motherhood and taken care of our families, but having done so under extreme duress.

On page 157 and in the chapter titled “When You Are Strong Enough,” Ingman writes of times when she experienced a shift in perspective and understanding of her experience, including significant shifts in her mood and her views of motherhood. Have you experienced moments like this? What has the impact been on your experience and healing?

CX: This too shall pass was such a trigger for me because with PPD, NOTHING was passing. Every hour, minute and second felt like decades. Those statements made me feel worse instead of relieved. I do, however, feel that way now, but I watch what I say to new moms because of my own experiences with those words. Things started to change for me gradually so I cannot remember exactly when I had those moments, however I can say Mother’s Day when she was 18 months old was the first one I could remember (2 had passed) and I planted a new garden to commemorate it. I know that I resented everything I experienced in that first year; now I yearn for it.

BR: I have definitely experienced moments such as those Ingman writes of that have influenced significant shifts in my perspective and moved me along in my healing process. They have come from conversations and connections with other Warrior Moms, or friends or family members who have survived their own personal struggles. They’ve come from sessions with my therapist, or listening to myself describe my experience to others. These moments feel to me like the healing moments. When I make meaning of my pain and integrate it into my understanding of myself and my now identity as mother/ Warrior Mom.

AKP: On page 172 Ingman describes the perfect social space that she would find supportive and healing for herself as a PPD mother. What would your perfect space look like?

CX: In reality I spent a lot of time at malls, just as she described. I just walked and it felt good to be around others. I also spent a lot of time at a local store that was child-friendly. The adult interactions and the non-judgmental staff made my day. Sometimes I counted down the days between my visits when I had money to spend so that I could get that interaction in. My perfect place was and would be my local moms’ group. Without them I do not know where I would be. They are the ones who helped me get into treatment and 3 years later we are still friends and meet regularly. I think about how fortunate I am for them on a daily basis.

BR: My perfect space would be somewhere nurturing and comforting, with other moms and babies who were sharing my experience. Maybe a comfortable, warm and safe lounge with older Warrior Moms to care, comfort and provide hope to those moms in the thick of things. Unfortunately my community had no support groups, but I craved the connection with others who could truly understand what I was going through. I got the nurturing piece from my mother and other family members, but there always felt like a piece of true understanding missing.

AKP: On page 195, and throughout the book, Ingman writes of what she retained of “herself” throughout her experience of becoming a mother/ surviving PPD. Has this been important to you? How have you worked to manage this in your own life?

CX: I think this is something I am always reassessing. I do feel like I lost a lot of myself in the PPD. I am remembering how things have changed and, as I have progressed along, how things have slowly come back that I do enjoy. Ingman describes her music as really important to her; for me it was my friends and being outside. In my PPD, neither of those things happened. Slowly though I began going on walks and being around friends. We also share interests in reading and going out to eat! So much has changed and I am hoping to continue to return to my old self.

AKP: It’s amazing how the PPD stranger that we see in the mirror eventually blossoms into something even more beautiful for so many Warrior Moms with support and treatment. I do like the analogy of the caterpillar and butterfly. I think of PPD as the painful change that happens in between, for me. That chrysalis was cramped, isolating, painful, and sometimes even hard to breathe inside, but once I began to break out of that shell I spread my wings and each month was able to fly farther and farther and eventually begin to help other caterpillars become butterflies themselves. For me, that has been the greatest gift.

Thank you to those who shared so openly for being a part of this discussion, and to the Postpartum Progress followers for reading this post. We hope that you found it helpful, both in considering this book as well as realizing that you weren’t and aren’t alone in your experience of motherhood.

If you are interested in joining the Warrior Mom Book Club, please email Amber at atlantamom930 @ gmail (dot) com. Next up is Brooke Shield’s popular book Down Came the Rain. We encourage you to borrow or purchase it ASAP as our goal it to have it read and to complete the interview prior to the holidays.

~ Amber Koter-Puline, Warrior Moms Book Club

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