Strong Start Day 2011: How Postpartum Progress Saved My Life

As I write this, I’m laying  in bed, a feverish mess, trying to win the war against The Plague that has invaded my body: strep throat & tonsillitis. So far, it’s had the advantage, but my atomic Penicillin bombs are starting to turn the tide my way.

So why take time to write a blog post in this condition? Why not just veg out watching TV or just lie here letting every medication known to man knock me out? The reason is simple:

It’s Strong Start Day 2011. It’s October 5, 2011, a day where more babies are born than any other day of the year, and Postpartum Progress is asking for our help. Who is Postpartum Progress? In official terms it’s the most widely-read blog on postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth.  It’s also a non-profit organization, Postpartum Progress Inc dedicated to raising awareness & improving support & services for women who suffer from PPD & other perinatal mood & anxiety disorders.

In my own unofficial terms, it’s a safe haven founded by a woman with unbelievable compassion, Katherine Stone. It’s a place that provides answers, insight, and a community of women & mothers just like you & me. It’s a place where you can ditch perfection & be free of judgement….and the icy glares of stigmas.

For me, it was everything I mentioned above but far more. It was a lifeline for me. Here’s my story:  In January and February of this year, I hit rock bottom. No, scratch that-I descended into the 7th circle of hell and was swallowed whole by despair. I didn’t want to live. I hated myself. Hated the monster of a mother I had become. I had gotten to the end of my rope & realized I had nothing left. I didn’t understand why I was feeling this way. I didn’t understand why no matter how much I prayed, went to church, took my Zoloft, exercised or talked to my doctor, I wasn’t….ME. I was me but I was the worst aspects of me I didn’t know existed. I have battled depression since I was 13 and was diagnosed with generalized anxiety in my early 20’s while in the military, but I had NEVER felt like this. I spent my pregnancy with Alex totally depressed-there were days I physically couldn’t move. I was also experiencing anxiety but didn’t recognize it as such-it was so severe there would be times all I could hear was my racing heart pounding in my ears. I was obsessed with cleaning & organizing things-if things were out of place, if a baseboard was dirty I couldn’t rest until it was fixed. My ex told me I was obsessive-I told him I was “nesting” and to mind his business-this was all a perfectly normal part of pregnancy, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?! When Alex was born, my first night in the hospital was a disaster, but I figured it was still normal-I had just spent the previous 5 days in active labor & had finally pushed him out of my body for Pete’s sake.

I should have listened to my instincts-or my ex’s observations about my behavior. Instead I watched as anxiety, uncontrollable rage, irritability, crying fits, and other symptoms of PPD & PPA take over my life for the next 10 months. I talked to my doctor and was put on Zoloft-but I was just told that it was all no big deal-once my hormones settled I’d be ok. I tried talking about it with people from church and even a couple of therapists paid for by my state insurance-I was told repeatedly that there was nothing wrong with me, that everything I was experiencing was a result of my being a single mother raising two kids, going to school, dealing with a tough relationship, blah blah blah. The Zoloft didn’t help. Well, I’ll put it this way: I wasn’t sad. What I was instead was constantly swinging between anger, rage, & guilt. I was living on the edge, the slightest, most trivial thing making me want to scream or crawl out of my skin. But everyone kept telling me there was nothing wrong with me while my gut kept telling me there was. I was so confused….and tired.

Then in January of this year I finally started my deep descent into hell. Into not wanting to live. Into hating myself. Hating my kids. Resenting my ex. Into being swallowed alive by guilt, fear, loneliness, shame, more anger, disappointment, & hopelessness. By February I was thinking of ways to kill myself. I remember laying in bed one night feeling heavy. Heavy as in a two ton boulder was laying on my chest. I thought about my kids. What would happen to them if I overdosed on Zoloft or released the tension & pain I was feeling by cutting myself and couldn’t stop. I picked up the phone and called my ex. Told him I wanted to die and I needed help. He made me promise to let him get me some help. I did. The next day we were both surfing the web & making calls. While I was surfing the web looking for postpartum depression treatment & resources, I came across Postpartum Progress. I cried and yelled and felt relief flooding my mind as I read the articles posted there, read the comments posted by women who were describing exactly what I had been feeling for the past year, year and a half. I read about the symptoms of PPD, PPA & other perinatal mood disorders in “Plain Mama English” and found my symptoms laid out in black & white on the screen in front of me. I learned that mamas who have a previous history of depression, anxiety or childhood trauma are more at risk for developing symptoms like mine during pregnancy & after giving birth. I found a place called the “Postpartum Stress Center” and called to set up an appointment. I posted a couple of comments on the site describing my emotional state & symptoms, asking for some kind of validation. Any kind. Katherine emailed me. Encouraged me. Empathized with me. Embraced me. Pushed me to seek help. That day and her emailed changed my life.

In the months that followed my symptoms worsened, but I was able to talk them out in therapy at the Center.There I received answers, encouragement, & coping strategies. I started pushing my doctors for answers, for better treatment options. I jumped back on Twitter and found #PPDChat, Lauren Hale, Jaime, Susan, Erica, Cristi, and an ARMY of other mamas who I could lean on, gain advice & insight from, & share my experiences with. I found blog after blog written by women who wrote about their experiences, their challenges and so much more. I found Kimberly whose post about her diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder 2 made me ask myself some hard questions, evaluate my worsening symptoms & finally gave me the courage to go to the hospital in July for more aggressive treatment & help….and I got a new diagnosis: rapid cycling Bipolar Disorder 2.

I shared all of that to say that in a nutshell, Postpartum Progress & Katherine Stone’s advocacy saved my life. Saved Brennan & Alex’s life. It opened my eyes to the reality of women’s mental health and educated me in a way talking to my doctor never had. It helped me find the support I so desperately needed.

Today, this organization needs OUR help. They need help to achieve the work that mamas everywhere so desperately need. Every mom wants to be a good mom, and they need our help & support to ensure mothers everywhere have a Strong Start. Please donate. If you are unable to donate, please email your friends, family, co-workers & neighbors, facebook them, tweet them, whatever it takes, & ask them to donate and spread the word. Raise awareness. Reach out today and do something tangible for someone else.

Right now there’s a mama out there who is just where I was at the beginning of this year. Right now, there’s a mama out there who is either unaware that help is available or is struggling to find it because of insurance or financial reasons-like I was. Please take a moment and do what you can to support this cause.

It helped save our lives & helped me win the fight.

This wouldn't have been possible a year ago

I know it can help save others.

Give Us Chocolate Cake!

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it before but I’m a social media consultant.  I’m only a couple years into the careerfield, and even though I’m still in college pursuing my degree in Communications, I’ve been fortunate enough to gain a significant amount of  experience working for a celebrity client-a chef on Food Network. I can’t even put into words how blessed I am in this regard, and how grateful I am for the opportunity to learn and grow with this individual…..but that’s not the point of this post….

I mentioned what I do for a living because working for a chef has opened my eyes, ears, and nose to the world of food in a whole new way. Growing up with my crazy father, I never ate home cooked food-we ate fast food or at restaurants EVERY DAY. I’m not exaggerating-my father simply did not cook…so my palate growing up you can imagine was pretty….um…underdeveloped I think is a good way to describe it.  When I moved in with my mom at the age of 17, I took my first trip to the grocery store, had my first home-cooked meal (Porkchops), and had my first experience with touching a dead chicken-an oven roaster my mother demanded I get acquainted with and put in the oven. My mother taught me how to cook (which thank GOD she did, because I discovered I really do LOVE food), but my client (I call him “Boss”) has taught me and my 5 senses about FOOD, period. When we went to a food show in NYC last summer, he told me to taste everything he did….I was terrified, cause there are just somethings I can’t stomach due to the childhood food trauma my dad subjected me to (ie making me eat things normal kids wouldn’t like and ruining my tastebuds with McDonald’s & Sonic) But as scared as I was, I was also intrigued and willing to give it a go-I wanted to be adventurous and I was. I didn’t like everything, but I learned alot about the different smells, textures, tastes and even sounds food has that day…and pretty much every day I’ve worked for this guy….

Working for him has not only deepened my love affair with food,  but because I work in the world of social media, it has made me pay attention to any & everything online that has to deal with food. I often find myself reading a blog, clicking on a recipe, “liking” food magazines on Facebook (although it’s not exclusive to food, right now, Real Simple Magazine is my new crush-I’m in love with that magazine and thier recipes!) searching for any food-related topics I can find…and if I can find something that I think he can expound upon & use to share with his fans online, that’s even better.

Today is a perfect example of that.  While scrolling through my news feed on Facebook, I came across an interesting fact: It’s National Chocolate Cake Day!  Who knew?! I mean, really?! You mean to tell me my FAVORITE deliciously decadent dessert has a day all it’s own to be celebrated and adored (and eaten!)? GET OUT OF HERE! I instantly text my “Boss” and told him…we went back and forth a few times, he gave me his thoughts on what he loves about chocolate cake, I posted his flourless chocolate cake recipe on his Facebook page for him and voila-learned a cool fact about food and sucessfully “engaged” an online community with the click of the mouse….

I love my job, I love who I work for, I love social media, I LOVE food….but most of all, I love a good, gooey, decadent slice of that good ol’ chocolate cake….*drooling and swooning as I type*

“Let them eat cake.” -(Marie Antoinette) Let us eat cake indeed…*raised fork* “TO CHOCOLATE CAKE-CHEERS!*

Meaning Behind the Name

Part of the reason I chose to name this blog “Butterfly Confessions” is because I wanted it to be a place I could bare all. I’ve always been a person who has struggled with the “should I or shouldn’t I be” transparent issue….and the struggle doesn’t come with baring my thoughts and emotions for strangers to see, it instead comes with wondering what those who are closest to me will say. I have no problems sharing myself with strangers, it’s easy and somewhat comforting to let them in through the door without fear of judgment or being misunderstood.  I’ve always had a desire to help people…I’ve never shared my experiences, thoughts or feelings for vain, self-indulgent, narcissistic reasons….Showing people my struggles, my triumphs, my humanity, has always been born out of a desire to help others identify and recognize that they aren’t alone in what they are experiencing in life. Growing up with an abusive father and wrestling with self-esteem/self-image issues, wanting to end my life, and other things always had me wanting someone to hear my pain, understand my feelings…sometimes all I wanted was just for someone to give me some hope that I could survive and overcome. I was always looking for people who could be examples of “over comers”-people who survived the rough seas of life and made it to the other side….so when I first fell in love with and discovered the art of writing in junior high, I not only wrote to release and express what was going on within me, but also to document what I was going through so that if I came across a kid/person who was in the same boat I was, I could grab my journal, and say “Hey, I understand-I’m going through it too, you aren’t by yourself. Let’s get through this together!” My “friends” on Facebook often comment on how open and transparent I am with my status updates….and while I agree to an extent that discretion is wise when it comes to such things, and while I also do keep some things to myself, I can’t help but just share my life with people.  Holding back (for the most part) is not something I’m good at. Growing up, my dad didn’t allow me to talk much, especially in public. I had to keep all of my emotions and comments to myself (at restaurants or in stores, people would often come up to my dad and ask him how he got me to be so well-behaved…some would even ask if I was mute or deaf…a store clerk even remarked that my silence was creepy lol)- At home and in public I lived behind an expressionless mask for most of my childhood and teen years…the only place I could (somewhat) be myself was at school, and when I left my dad’s at 17 I vowed I wouldn’t live like that anymore-all bottled up and expressionless…so that’s another reason I live my life “out loud” I guess…

But sometimes, when it comes to baring myself to those closest to me, I’m not as bold….I believe I struggle with being as transparent with those closest to me as I am with strangers because of how my parents and even some close friends have reacted to my writing or my spoken thoughts. I found that sometimes just because people ask “What’s wrong?” doesn’t mean they are equipped to handle, understand, process, grasp or even genuinely be interested in the honest, soul-baring response. When it comes to those who are closest to you, transparency can be a two-edged sword-as I always say and have experienced, honesty, especially brutal honesty, (if not tempered with a degree of love and tact) has a price-one that even when on the receiving end, I’m not always willing to pay….

But when I write, I bare it all-Once I recognized the treasured freedom that lies in capturing unfiltered, non-sugar coated words & emotions in ink upon blank paper, I knew I could never hold back with my writing ever again. I discovered that while I may be able to lie to myself in my mind about something, the truth is always told when held captive on a sheet of paper. It’s like the pen becomes a channel of truth serum-it takes what I may be trying to hide from myself and translates it into unabashed truth for me to read and digest, whether I want to or not-it’s there. Maybe for other writer’s it’s not the same, but I find freedom in this approach…..but having this approach sometimes has a hefty price tag and I’ve experienced it way too often when it comes to those closest to me reading what I’ve written. I’ve very rarely had an instance where someone I loved and trusted reacted positively to something I’ve laid in prose….well-if it’s something surfacey and light, yes, I’ve gotten positive feedback. But if it’s deeper, something more…revealing, well, I always get a negative reaction….and distance…and am misunderstood…and….rejected…

My father is just one example of many. In high school he discovered a stack of journals and papers I had hidden in my room. Some things I had written were just poems about God, my purpose, my life….others mentioned my struggles with self-esteem, depression, how trapped I felt, and my will to live-or not live… You would’ve thought I had written blasphemes the way this man reacted. Instead of recognizing the fact that his 14 year old daughter needed help and that his abuse was destroying me, he beat the hell out of me and told me how awful I was, and how God hated me because of the things I had written.  He said I had no right to divulge my inner most thoughts and feelings on paper-said I was crazy and evil for expressing myself. Well, you can imagine the impact that had on me. He ripped up most of it in front of me…a couple of journals he said he was going to keep to “prove to people how crazy and horrible” I was, so they could see why he treated me the way he did, like telling me everyday he wanted to kill me. (Yes, my father was an insane person and a horrible parent-I know that now, but didn’t know it back then.)

So that pretty much started a pattern of people closest to me not responding well to my writings….

When I started writing this post I didn’t intend to go in this direction…my intentions in talking about “confessions” were to just give a little backstory on why I write on this blog and then dive into a…well…a confession lol…a startling revelation I made today while talking to and deciding to be very honest with God. (After experiencing what I did as a kid/teen with my dad, you can imagine why being honest with God is difficult and a process I’m learning my way through-but I’ve definitely found freedom when I am honest with Him, so, I’m working on it :) ) But seeing as though I dove deeper than I intended I don’t want to “muddy” this post with the confession…I’ll save it for the another post.

Who knows? Maybe my intentions in writing this weren’t His….I’m an idealist, and I always believe that everything happens for a reason…so that being said, this might not have been the destination I wanted for this post, but maybe it turned out this way and arrived here for reasons only He knows… I’m okay with that :)