Climbing Out of The Darkness

A few months ago, I wrote a letter to Miriam Carey, the mother who lost her life after a chase with police at our nation’s Capitol.  After her death it was revealed that she suffered from some form of mental illness, possibly triggered by postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis. In that letter I made her and her daughter a promise: that I would do better, do everything in my power to make it so that mothers like her, like myself, don’t suffer in silence, nor fall through the cracks of the healthcare system in our country. I promised her that I would continue to be a voice crying out for those in our communities to take our mental health seriously and to seek treatment-even if it felt like I was speaking in a silo, into the wind, and no one was listening. I promised I’d do better so her daughter wouldn’t be ashamed to seek mental health help if she ever needs it as she grows older.

I’ve been working very hard since then to live up to that promise, even if it just involves me being completely honest here about where I’m at mentally. I haven’t erased my YouTube videos, even though I haven’t updated it in months and regret that I haven’t seen that project through like I wanted. I do, however have other projects in the works that hopefully I will see through and that will help me carry out my promise to her in tangible, impactful ways.

I WILL be a change agent.

**

When I was thinking of writing this post-what I wanted to say about why I volunteer my time and resources to Postpartum Progress, and why I’m asking for your support, I thought of Miriam, my promise, and then I thought of myself.

I thought back to January 2011. I don’t remember the exact date but I remember it was nighttime, and I was sitting in the dark, crying as I sat in front of my laptop typing words into Google search. I had spent the previous hour sitting on my bathroom floor, envisioning my family coming in and finding me bleeding to death in the bathtub. I’d been having suicidal and intrusive thoughts for over a week, and was exhausted from the mental strain and impact of severe shifts and cycles in mood. I remember thinking about the people in my life who had told me that either nothing was wrong with me or that I was suffering because I wasn’t “living right.” No one could explain why I was feeling insanity dance within me, and no one understood because I could barely articulate what it was that was happening to me.

I remember feeling the exhaustion settling in deep within my bones, overtaking any resolve that remained. So there I was, Googling what I thought were my symptoms. The first link in the search results was Postpartum Progress. I spent the next 3 hours reading everything there: posts, comments, the “Plain Mama English” guides that outlined the symptoms of perinatal mood disorders. I remember crying as I read everything, realizing that I finally had an explanation for what I had been enduring since even before I gave birth to Alex. The rage…the sadness…the anxiety…the compulsions…the intrusive thoughts…the guilt…there it all was, laid out for me in black and white on the screen.

I emailed Katherine Stone, the founder. She emailed me back, encouraging me to seek help and telling me that no, I wasn’t crazy, and yes, I would get better, and there as hope for me. She directed me to the Postpartum Stress Center in PA where I eventually started treatment.

Hope and a lifeline. She and Postpartum Progress had given me both.

***

Postpartum depression and related illnesses like postpartum anxiety, ocd, and psychosis, are the most common complications of childbirth, impacting 1 in 7 women, and at a higher rate of 1 in 4 women in minority, lower-income, & impoverished communities every year. Suicide is among the leading causes of death among new mothers every year. (As I mentioned above, it nearly took MY life) With these kinds of grim stats in mind, Postpartum Progress has grown from just a blog, to a non-profit laser focused on improving the maternal mental health of women worldwide through a variety of programs.

For example, in the next 24 months, Postpartum Progress will be updating and expanding the blog including a Spanish language version, creating a video PSA, and starting the development of a mobile app that supports moms through PPD and related illnesses.

These are the kinds of initiatives that Climb Out of the Darkness is designed to help fund. Climb Out of the Darkness is THE first event of its kind: one designed to spread awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and help fund Postpartum Progress’ efforts to reach every mother, in every community, on every socioeconomic level.

I’m joining mothers all over the world-there are climbs in London, New Zealand, Canada, and South America-to raise money  over the next 48 days that will help Postpartum Progress help every mother and their families have the strong start they deserve.

I did it last year to honor my experience and ascent out of the darkness I found myself in that night in 2011. This year, I’m leading a team of survivors here in Austin, and I’m doing it for Miriam. I’m doing it for the other women who have lost their lives in the last 12 months to suicide. I’m doing it for the mothers in communities that lack access to adequate mental health resources, for the mothers who have no insurance, who are at risk and don’t know there’s hope and help. For the mothers who are ignorant of the facts and range of their symptoms because their OB doesn’t have adequate information in their brochures on PPD. For the mothers who just think that PPD is nothing more than being sad and doesn’t understand why she has scary thoughts or full-blown rage she’s never in her life experienced up until this time in her life.

Some quick facts on PPD and related illnesses:

  • PPD and related illnesses happen to ONE MILLION WOMEN in the US alone each year.
  • Only 15% of moms with PPD and related illnesses ever get professional help. That means there are more than a half a million mothers (in the US alone) each year who have not gotten any help.

  • The National Research Council reports that untreated PPD is associated with impaired mother-infant bonding and long-term negative effects on the child’s emotional behavior and cognitive skills, lasting into adolescence and adulthood. The Urban Institute says the biggest tragedy of this illness is that it is treatable and thus we could be preventing the damage it has on so many mothers and children.

  • The annual cost of lost income and productivity in the US of not treating mothers with depression is $4-5 billion.

Let’s not lose any more mothers to these very treatable illnesses. Let’s eradicate the shame associated with these illnesses that keep so many from seeking treatment. Would you consider a $10 or $20 donation this week? Team Austin’s goal is to first raise $500, and then stretch to $1k. We’re over 60% of the way to $500. Help us get there?

Thank you SO much for your support. Seriously. You’re helping us save lives. You’re helping us save the other Miriams & A’Driane’s out in this world.

To join a climb in your area, click this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/COTD2014

To donate to our team here in Austin, click this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/addyeB-COTD2014/fundraiser/addyeB

To read my latest post over at Postpartum Progress, go here: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/postpartum-anxiety-comes-back

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. Please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

Have My Struggles with Mental Illness Caused Developmental Delays in My Son?

We took Alex to the pediatrician today for his 2 year checkup.

Alex has always been on the small side when it comes to his weight,(even though he weighed 6lbs 7oz at birth) so I was expecting a conversation about how much he’s gained, what we can do to help him gain more if needed, where he’s at on the growth curve, etc.  I was expecting to talk about he’s gone from eating nearly everything as an infant to close to nothing as a toddler and has redefined the term “picky eater.” I was expecting to talk about his Early Intervention evaluation and the 25% language delay he has. I was hoping to talk about constructive and healthy ways to handle his tantrums when he doesn’t get his way and his moodiness.

What I wasn’t expecting was a conversation about how my mental health was to blame for a decline in his growth back when he was 9 months old….back when I was battling PPD & severe anxiety.

I was not expecting to be told that my mental health has been having a negative impact on my son’s development.

There I was, sitting in the pediatrician’s office, stammering and trying to defend myself.

“I was on medication…I…there were days I was sad, but…I did my best to make sure all of his basic needs were met…I mean, yes I did struggle with bonding with him, but…I…I tried to push through it…I did my best.”

There I was, sitting in the pediatrician’s office, having my worst fears confirmed and exposed.

Despite everything I’ve done to prevent it, I’ve damaged my child.

Of course he’s moody and temperamental.

Of course his language is delayed.

Of course he’s not doing as well as he should.

Of course he was a fussy baby.

I was depressed during my pregnancy.

I was depressed and anxious for the first year and a half of his life.

PPD & anxiety dominated me.

I didn’t bond with him the way his dad did.

Out of the two of us, I was the parent who was unhealthy.

It’s my fault.

I tried to get help. At my 6week checkup I told my OB how I was feeling. He sent me to my primary care doctor who said I was just a tired new mother of two kids. She said she doubted I’d feel the way I did for very long and said she thought I was fine. But I pushed anyway and she reluctantly wrote me script for a low dose of Zoloft. I took it for a year. I sought counseling. The first two therapists I talked to told me what I was experiencing was normal because I was a single mother. “Nothing is wrong with you, who wouldn’t be stressed?’ I kept hearing. I kept getting worse. When Alex was 10 months old I found Postpartum Progress and started getting treatment at the Postpartum Stress Center.  I found the #PPDChat Army and started talking to other sufferers & survivors. Getting help enabled me to start emerging from PPD’s grip, but my anxiety and mood swings became more drastic. I read a blog post about something called Bipolar Disorder 2 and cried because I knew that I was having the same symptoms. Two weeks later I was diagnosed and started seeking treatment.

Since then I have been doing everything I can to get better and get healthy. I have fought my way out of the darkest corners of my mind and done my best to still provide a healthy environment for my sons in spite of my struggles with motherhood and illness.

But even though I know all of this, I can’t help but think that Alex’s pediatrician is right. I can’t help but read the research on various websites like womenshealth.gov that says

Researchers believe postpartum depression in a mother can affect her baby. It can cause the baby to have:

  • Delays in language development
  • Problems with mother-child bonding
  • Behavior problems
  • Increased crying

Or this post from Postpartum Progress back in 2008 that says a study finds antenatal depression can contribute to developmental delays. Or this one from 2011 that discusses the risks of not being treated for depression, anxiety, or another mood disorder.

I’ve read post after post about the impact my mental illness during pregnancy and postpartum could have on Alex as he develops and have hoped and prayed he’d still be healthy.

Back in December I had spent a 2 therapy sessions letting go of the guilt over not being treated for my depression during pregnancy, and forgiving myself. When I was pregnant with Alex, I had never heard of antenatal depression, and my OB never mentioned it. Whenever I talked about my mood swings and sadness, he said it was normal and just because of changes in my hormones-“don’t worry too much about it,” he said. “Once you have the baby, you’ll feel better-this is just a  physically challenging pregnancy and it’s stressing you out. Try to take it easy,” he had reassured me. It took me until this past December to forgive myself for it.

And then there I was, sitting in the pediatrician’s office today, listening to him,  feeling all the shame, pain, fear, guilt, and negative emotions of the past 2 years wash over me.

I’ve spent the afternoon and this evening being angry and ashamed of myself for just taking everyone’s word for it. For being sick in the first place. For going untreated. I feel like I should have done more, even though I know in my heart of heart’s I did all I could.

Maybe the pediatrician was just voicing his concern and opinion. Maybe he’s right. Maybe my mental health during the first two years of life is to blame for the delays in development and his mood swings. Maybe it’s not to blame and Alex would’ve been like this if I had been happy and healthy. Maybe Alex will grow out of this and be just fine.

I don’t know what to make of this, really. I’m trying to process it all and not let what happened today settle in and take root, making me question my self-worth and value as a mother. I’m doing my best to keep in mind that I’m doing everything I can now and getting him the help he needs to keep thriving. I’m trying not to blame myself.

But it’s so damn hard y’all.

The guilt is suffocating.

Being Black with Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Progress has a new series!

It’s called “Warrior Moms of Color.”

It was created by Katherine Stone to give women from various racial and ethnic backgrounds an opportunity to share their stories of living with and battling through perinatal mood disorders.

I was asked to be a guest contributor for this series and shared some of my experience there today. I’m grateful for the chance to do so, being as that Postpartum Progress was THE website that helped me find treatment and support for my PPD/PPA.

Please head on over and read what I had to say about my struggle with suffering with PPD as an African American woman, and as always feel free to share your thoughts and comments…..I’d love to hear your feedback on this one.

She Said It: Kathryn Greene McCreight on PPD, Bipolar Disorder & Faith

image courtesy of goodreads.com

My friend Audrey lent me this book a couple of months ago and I’m just starting to read it this week. The second paragraph of the first chapter made me catch my breath as I read words that seemed to explain what parts of my experience with PPD was like.  As I continued to read the following paragraphs and discovered that the author is not just a mother, but a priest, and also bipolar, my eyes stung with heavy tears and I had to pause every now and then to process the emotions I was feeling.

When I was going through my experience with PPD I felt so alone, because it seemed no one around me had experienced it, or if they had, they didn’t speak up about it. I felt confused and misunderstood, mostly because I couldn’t even articulate what was going on with me, and when I tried, my words left the hearer with the impression that I either just needed to pray more, take more time, or “fix” my circumstances…as a Christian I was even told that I was experiencing the depression and turmoil because I had chosen to have a child out of wedlock…the hell and pain I was reeling from were just the byproducts of my “sin” and I needed to just endure it.

When I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder last July, I felt my faith shaken and my first question to God was, “Can I be a Christian and be bipolar?” How was I supposed to know what was real, how was I supposed to hold on to God in my lowest and darkest moments when all I wanted to do sometimes was just die? My next question was, “Are there other Christians who are bipolar? Where are they? Why don’t they talk about their experiences?”

I’ve ranted on Facebook and Twitter about how there’s a lack of open dialogue, awareness, education, and services in the Christian community for those living with severe or chronic mental illnesses. There are even far less in the African-American Christian community….I’ve yet to hear of mental illness addressed in a sermon or anyone in our culture openly discuss this subject…..

So when I started to read this book, the first few pages seemed to scream what my experience and thoughts motherhood and these illnesses have been like. Her words shook me, so much so that I had to put the book down a few times because my hands and arms couldn’t stop shaking, my body trembling from the force of the tears and emotions welling up inside of me.

So for today’s post, I thought I’d just share an excerpt, share the paragraphs I read yesterday that spoke so soundly to me and I found myself in. If you know of someone who is struggling with their mental illness, especially as a mother or even a Christian, please share this post with them as well. I hope it helps you and them the way it has already started to help me.

When I became a mother for the second time however, the hem of my mental health began to fray. Motherhood by nature challenges the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical endurance of any woman. It is a highly over-romanticized and underestimated pressure cooker, matched in potential not only for the creation of a new family but also for the destruction of both mother and child. Think-with horror-the Susan Smiths and Andrea Yateses of the world. ……of course not all postpartum suffers are this detached from reality.

…..Motherhood, I believe, was only the precipitant for an internal agony that I had been holding back for years. Maybe God had postponed my storm at sea until I could be buyoued by the hopefulness and joy that I derived from my children and husband.The experience as a whole and the experiences that constituted the eventual illness were at least bewildering and at most terrifying. The blue sky which normally fills my heart, stung my soul. Beautiful things like oriental rugs and good food like bean soup absolutely exhausted me. Noise was amplified in my ears, and I fled sound and conversation in search of silence. Small tasks became existential problems: how and why to fold the laundry, empty the diswasher, do grocery shopping. My memory failed me. I was unable to read or write (except for sermons, by the Holy Spirit’s providence, I believe.) And it went downhill from there. A back and forth in and out of darkness lasted for years. ……

….I have a chronic disease, a brain disorder that used to be called manic depression and is now, less offensively, called bipolar disorder. However one tries to soften the blow of the diagnosis, the fact remains that bipolar disorder is a subset of the larger category unhappily called “major mental illness.’ By the latter of my thirties, I had sought help from several psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health professionals, one a Christian, but mostly non-Christians. I had been in active therapy with a succession of therapists over several years and had been introduced to many psychiatric medications, most of which bought quite unpleasant side effects and only a few of which relieved my symptoms to some degree. Those medications that have in fact been helpful, I must say despite my own disinclination toward drugs, have been a strand in the cord that God has woven for me as the lifeline cast out in my free fall.  The medications have helped me rebuild some of “myself,” so that I can continue to be the kind of mother, priest, and writer that I believe God wants me to be. “A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12) The three cords to my rope were the religious (worship and prayer), the psychological, (psychotherapy) and the medical (medication, ECT, and hospitalization).

Yet while therapists and counselors, psychiatrists and medications abound, I found no one to help me make sense of my pain with regard to my life before the triune God. I write this book, then by way of an offering, as what I wish someone had written to help me make sense of the pain and apparent incongruity of that agony with the Christian life. Those Christians who have not faced the ravages of mental illness should not be quick with advice to those who do suffer. “Pray harder,” “Let Jesus in,” even “Cast your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7), which of course are all valid pieces of advice in and of themselves, may only make the depressive person hurt more.

This is because depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being “down.” It is being cast the very end of your tether and, quite frankly being dropped. Mania is more than speeding mentally, more than euphoria, more than creative genius at work. The sick individual cannot simply shrug it off or pull out of it. While God certainly can pick up the pieces and put them together in a new way, this can happen only if the depressed brain makes it through to see again life among the living.

This is an excerpt from “Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness,” by Kathryn Greene-McCreight. You can read her brief bio on her church’s website here

On PPD & Mental Illness: What Would You Say?

This morning my Human Development professor asked me after class if I would like to speak to my classmates about Postpartum Depression.

Is my name A’Driane?

Did I spend all of 2010 and 2011 living with and battling PPD?

Yes. Yes it is, yes I did, and hell yes I will speak to my classmates about such an important topic.

As soon as she finished the question my ear worm immediately started playing the opening lines & notes to “Lose Yourself” by Eminem….

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment
Would you capture it? Or just let it slip?

A chance. An opportunity. To own a part of my story. To speak openly and honestly about something that leaves most women feeling ashamed and reeling from the effects it has on their lives. A chance to educate and share the facts, not the myths, misconceptions or misleading information that perpetuates the stigma.

I’ve been given another chance to take what I know, what I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced and share it with others, and while I’m humbled and grateful for this opportunity, I don’t want to choke. I don’t want to back out of it. I don’t want my anxiety and fear to get the best of me and push the mute button on my voice. I know it’s just a class and not some big speaking event, but I still feel a huge responsibility to do it well and help people be informed.  I’m learning that when it comes to owning your story, recovery, and healing from pain, taking advantage of the opportunities to speak about what you went through is really important. I’m learning that doing so helps strip shame, pain, and what you’re battling of its power. So even though it’s small, I want to make sure I do that here.

So I’m reaching out to you all. I need your help. If you could say anything about PPD or mental illness to a group of 18-22 year olds, male and female, what would it be? What would you want them to know? What should they know that you didn’t? What do you wish someone had told you?  What has helped you get through it whether you’ve recovered or are still trying to recover?

If you would prefer to email me your response, feel free to do so: bconfessions (at) gmail (dot) com

Whether you’re battling PPD or are a survivor, please help me educate and inform. Your feedback is tremendously appreciated.

Thank you.

Just. One. Second.

Have you ever had a moment where you just wanted to disappear?

Disappear to a place where there is no chaos, no swirling of emotions….where your thoughts are far less turbulent, and your mind is oddly calm…still…silent…the rhythmic rise and fall of each breath the only audible sound?

Have you ever wanted to, just for a second?

In that second there would be no pain, no tiredness, no doggedly traipsing from one moment to the next hoping you’ll survive, no fear of what’s around that dark, shadowy corner of your mind.

No tears, no anger, no shame, no weighty opinions or criticisms, no slipping and sliding uphill to recovery, normalcy, FREEDOM.

Yes in that small second freedom would stand tall, grasp you by the hand and release you from all the weight you’re carrying….

In that moment your freedom would be all you could hear, smell, taste, see and touch.

Have you ever had a moment like that? Where all you wanted was to be free from it all, just for a second? Just one?

That’s all I want tonight….

Just….One…Second….Of Freedom.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

God that’s all I need. Just one second to rest from all of this.

Beautifully Broken: These Manic Moments

I painted yesterday.

ALL DAY.

In between taking care of two sick kids and cleaning my apartment, I somehow managed to

Paint.

All.

Day.

(Now mind you-I have no technical skill, I am not an artist. I can draw stick people and color in lines but that’s as far as my skills go. I just like color…and creating something even if it’s simplistic and looks like nothing….)

I’ve been cycling between depression and mania all week, daily, but have spent the past two days full on hypomanic.

Hence the all day painting.

At least I’m finding a release from it; being able to creatively express the explosions of colors and frantic thoughts in my mind keeps me from teetering off the edge.

I’m Bipolar. There are parts of me that malfunction and are broken….

but I’m finally starting to see the beauty that does lie underneath it all, and am learning to capture it, use it, and build upon it….so I don’t give space to the darkness.

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Several people have reached out and asked me to paint a word or picture for them. Instead of selling anything, I have a project idea that would benefit a nonprofit dear to my heart. Once I get the details finalized, I will post the info-stay tuned!

Circle of Moms Top 25 Blogs on Postpartum Depression: Why I Want to Be Listed Among the Awesome

 I was winding up a relaxing catch up session with my cousin Addye D. late yesterday afternoon, when I happened to check my email and received the shock of a lifetime:

Your blog Butterfly Confessions has been nominated to the Top 25 Postpartum Depression Blogs by Moms – 2012 list on Circle of Moms!

The parts I highlighted in bold were the only words I initially saw and the overwhelming shock that came with understanding what they meant led me to immediately close the email. After a few moments I passed the phone to my cousin and friend Stephanie and just sat there with my hand over my mouth in stupefied gratitude and shock.

When the shock had ebbed enough away for me to recover I re-opened the email, read it through, followed the links  attached and was blown away when I saw the other moms who’d also been nominated…moms I knew. Mamas I had met only a year ago through their courage and transparent words on my computer screen…mamas who embraced me, encouraged me, talked with me, and walked with me through one of the darkest periods of my life. Mamas who became friends, confidants and some of my biggest supporters, mamas who comprise a fabulous army known as the #PPDChat Army on Twitter & Facebook.  I was listed among these incredible women?! Again, I was overwhelmed with emotion and had to back away from the computer to process it all.

I couldn’t sleep last night because after my initial shock and emotions about being nominated subsided, there came the desire to want to be listed, to indeed be one of the 25 who make the list. After that came guilt and the thoughts that tried to rob me of the joy of this accomplishment: “Should I want to win?” “What is this some kind of popularity contest? Is this why you write? To win things, to make lists, to be recognized and applauded? A’Driane get a grip, girl! Stop being so vain,” the guilt laced thoughts screamed at me.

But this morning when I woke up, I didn’t feel anymore guilt because I understand why I want to be listed among these incredible women and I don’t think my reasons and desire make me a shallow, glory seeking hound.

I want to be listed because number one, it help me remember on the rough days that  my transparency means something, that it’s more than just me sitting here spilling my guts on the internet. Practicing transparency is no easy task and it is by no means for the faint at heart. It takes courage to own your story, out loud, in black and white for the world to read and think what they may of it. You know how many people disparagingly told me I shouldn’t do this? That I shouldn’t share these kinds of details about my life? Do you know that no one in my family openly talks about depression or mental illness though it has affected several of us? I don’t do this solely for awards or to be applauded, or even to try and get thousands of page views. I do it because I want to change the dialogue about mental illness, especially among women and mothers. I do it because I want to be a voice, a person who helps others embrace their humanity by vocalizing mine.

I also want to be listed because black women suffer from postpartum depression too, as well as other minorities. It’s no secret that mental illness is a taboo subject among the black community and that the stigmas surrounding it are deeply entrenched, almost impermeable. But I’m trying to change that, and while you may think I’m pulling a race card here, I’m really not. Facts are facts. Blacks, Latinos, Asians and other races & cultures don’t talk about mental health and perinatal mood disorders. And if they aren’t talking about it, that means they aren’t seeking treatment if they are suffering. There needs to be more awareness, more open, shame-free dialogue and more healthy, strong starts for mothers of color and their children. Part of why I’m fighting my way through college right now is so I can become a licensed clinical social worker & therapist to make this happen on a professional level, advocating and pushing for effectual change. Women of color need better resources both online and in their communities. I want to be an online resource they can come to for support and an encouraging virtual bear hug when they need it. I just want to do my part, and being listed in a community that boasts over 6 million moms can maybe help these women of color find what they need.

So do I want to be listed among the awesome? Do I want you to vote for me? Do I feel guilty or shameful about asking you to? Yes, yes, and no, I don’t. Don’t think of it as voting for me, a person. When you cast your vote for me and the other mamas listed think of it as helping to erase the shame and stigma surrounding mental illness. Think of it as helping to give mamas and their kiddos a strong, healthy start. Don’t we all deserve that?

Speaking of the awesome, DUDE-PLEASE check out all the blogs listed and VOTE for them! I’ve been voting for everyone :) Why?  Every single one of these mamas has shown so much courage and strength by giving in to vulnerability and letting you see their struggles and triumphs. Reward their wholeheartedness and leave them encouraging comments, let them know you support what they’re doing and that it’s not in vain.  To see the list of blogs nominated and to vote you can click on the badge to the right under “Honored!” or click this link: http://www.circleofmoms.com/top25/top-postpartum-depression-mom-blogs-2012 Voting lasts until February 21, 2012 and you can vote for your favorites once a day every day :)

Congrats to all the mamas who have been nominated!!!!!!!!!

And God…you continue to amaze me. Thank you for being so faithful and just plain AWESOME.

Postpartum Depression: It Doesn’t Just “Happen” to White Women

Today I sat down here at the computer, pulled up Google and typed the following into the search box:

how many African American women suffer from postpartum depression?

do Black women suffer from postpartum depression?

how do Black women deal with postpartum depression?

Guess what came up? NOTHING.  Not one specific thing that answered the questions I queried. The closest I got was an article that discussed a study done in Iowa back in 2008, and an article that discussed the link between domestic violence and postpartum depression in African-American women. 

What’s wrong with this picture? Why is it that among the thousands upon thousands of search results returned, nothing specific, direct, and “here’s what you’re looking for, click here!” was featured on the first page of results? Or the second page? Why is so much of the information not recent or particularly relevant?

This not only frustrates me but it saddens me. Angers me even. If a simple Google search doesn’t yield solid results, how are black women supposed to find the help they may need?

That’s if women of color even think they need help in the mental health department, cause let’s face it: Black people don’t do therapy, medication, and definitely don’t “believe” in mental illness.

I could spend all day talking about why African Americans don’t seek help for any kind of mental struggle but it pretty much boils down to the fact that we don’t think we need help. Ask a person of color about this and you’re likely to hear the following:

  • Due to slavery, 400 years of oppression and trauma, black people feel that if we survived all of that, we can survive anything-WITHOUT help from a doctor
  • Your family is your therapist-why waste money talking to some expensive doctor about your problems when you can just talk to your mama or grandma for free? It’s their advice that matters because after all, look at what they went through, at what they have survived-they made it, and so will you!
  • Bootstraps. Black people have the strongest, longest, toughest bootstraps in the world-and when faced with adversity, we pull ourselves up by them and “keep it movin.”
  • Church. You can pray away any of your troubles. Seriously. If you pray and you’re still having mental issues, then you’re faith just isn’t strong enough and maybe you did something to deserve what you’re going through.
  • To admit you have a problem is to admit weakness. Weakness doesn’t happen to us. We are strong. We survived slavery, remember?
  • Therapy & meds are too expensive

And the list can go on forever.  You’re probably thinking that some of what I just mentioned sounds outrageous and I’d have to agree with you that it does. But these are the things that perpetuate stigmas about mental illness in the black community.

I can also tell you that for women of color the stigmas run even deeper and the expectations for us are even higher. Black women in our community are viewed as strong, capable, able to handle anything and conquer adversity  like Michael Jordan conquered dunks back in his hey day-with incredible, effortless, ease. We make do with what we have, we sacrifice what we need to, and we NEVER (I mean NEVER) complain about any of it.  We endure hardships like single parenthood with our mouths shut…our mothers and their mothers before them handled life that way, and without outside help, why would we do any different?

After I had Alex, my postpartum depression manifested as uncontrollable rage, severe swings in moods and severe anxiety. Alex would cry and I would literally want to crawl out of my skin.  Brennan would spill something and I would either explode in anger or burst into tears. Think I could talk to anyone about it? I tried talking to my mom…..I got the bootstrap, “God will work it out, ” and “just give it time” speech. I talked to some women at my church….”I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. I mean, look at all you have to deal with, especially being a single parent. If you’re circumstances were different, you’d be fine. You’re alright. Trust me,” was the consensus. I even had a friend tell me that they were “giving up” on me, and that my “problems” were too much to deal with.

I wasn’t fine. Not by a long shot. So I called my state funded health insurance and found a therapist. Only he wasn’t a real therapist-he was a state social worker. His reaction? “Any woman in your position would feel the way you do. That doesn’t mean you have PPD. Lots of women like you, who are black & single mothers with more than one child feel this way.”  Lots of women “like” me? Really?

What’s my point by saying all of this? It’s simple, really:

BLACK WOMEN SUFFER FROM POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION TOO. 

I know they do. They have to. Because I did. I’m recovered now and I have a new diagnosis, but the fact still remains that I spent a year after Alex’s birth fighting my way through PPD.  But you wouldn’t know that if I didn’t talk about it. And we don’t know how many other black mothers are out there, suffering in silence, thinking that they “don’t have time” or are “too blessed to be stressed” to properly deal with the hell they are experiencing, thinking it’s a natural part of motherhood and even single parenthood.

We only hear about postpartum depression from white female celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Brooke Shields. The closest I’ve found to anyone in the black “celebrity” community discussing PPD is Mocha Manual author & speaker Kimberly Seals Ayers, whose PPD story you can read here.  Even she admits that PPD is more common among women of color but no one will admit to or talk about it. Essence, Ebony, and other magazines geared toward “black” audiences have yet to publish any significant articles on the subject in their health features. I can’t recall reading even ONE.

I asked a friend of mine today why she thinks women of color, particularly younger women,  don’t seek treatment for issues like PPD. She’s a new mother whose son was born premature and has been struggling with PPD pretty badly. Her response?

I think it’s real problem that more women my age (she’s 24) suffer from than would admit…Black people have this mindset that going to therapy and taking meds means you’re crazy instead of meaning that you’re informed about your mental health & getting healthy. Until I actually went to  therapy and got meds I was one of those uneducated people who thought & was afraid that people would think I was “crazy” and would need meds to function, you know?

Postpartum depression just doesn’t happen to white women. It happens to black women and other women of color too. What is it going to take to change the perception and stigma? How can it even BE changed if no one will talk about it?

I don’t know what the answer is y’all but I’m determined more than ever to be a voice and to keep sharing my story and my experience because mamas of color & their babies deserve strong, healthy starts too. Here’s to hoping that one day my voice encourages others to speak up and reach out too. I’ll leave you with this quote from Monica Coleman, Ph.D. (click her name to visit her website! it’s incredible!)

In many ways, I do think that there is a greater stigma among African-American culture than among white cultures. I live in southern California, and many white people will freely reference “seeing a therapist” in normal conversation. Black people don’t do that. Seeing a therapist is generally seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of faith. There is still an active mythos of “the strong black woman,” who is supposed to be strong and present and capable for everyone in her family – and neglects her own needs. In the midst of a depressive episode, I had a friend say to me, “We are the descendants of those who survived the Middle Passage and slavery. Whatever you’re going through cannot be that bad.” I was so hurt and angry by that statement. No, depression isn’t human trafficking, genocide or slavery, but it is real death-threatening pain to me. And of course, there are those who did not survive those travesties. But that comment just made me feel small and selfish and far worse than before. It made me wish I had never said anything at all.