To Miriam…

Dear Miriam,

My head and heart have been reeling since your death. Upon seeing your picture and hearing details emerge about your struggles mentally and hospitalization, I sat crumpled in my bathroom, sobbing for you, your daughter, and for myself.

You see, I saw your face, your brown skin, and I saw a reflection of myself-a mother battling a mental illness. Having lived in the darkness of postpartum depression I know the hopelessness, fear, confusion, and pain that consumes you from the inside out. Although I’ve never experienced psychosis, I have and do experience the chaos, scattered and fragmented thoughts, paranoia, and such that comes at times with having bipolar disorder. I know that my having such a mood disorder puts me at a much more significant risk of psychosis postpartum, and that terrifies me.  Like you, I’ve been hospitalized, trapped in my own mind, wandering the halls and monotony of the psych ward, getting help, but also wanting OUT and have some sense of normalcy back…whatever’s left of it in your life at least. I know how triggering and taxing an unplanned pregnancy can be on your psyche, even when you’ve accepted and embraced the new life growing within you. I know the disconnect you can feel once you’re holding that new life in your arms minutes after delivery and long after you’ve been sent home. I know how difficult those first few months can be, and even that first year. And I know what it’s like to need help, be in treatment, but not have anyone you can really talk to about it, no one who “gets” the upheaval your mind and well-being is in. I know what it’s like to have to make a conscious choice to fight for your life daily, and being too tired to make that choice most days. I know the stigma that comes with being sick, and taking medications. I know side effects and having to rely on meds is exhausting and at times can chip away at your feelings of self-worth, and leave you doubting your capabilities to mother, to accomplish goals and dreams…to LIVE.

I know all of these things and that is why I sat in my bathroom crying for you…for me…for your daughter, and for my unborn son squirming in my belly.

After my tears came questions: were you getting help after your hospitalization? Were your boyfriend, mother, and sisters supportive? Did they encourage you to stick with treatment-were they themselves educated on your meds and illnesses? Did you have a therapist and adequate access to other mental health resources? Did you have anyone, ANYONE to talk to? Were you afraid to talk to anyone? Were you compliant in your treatment? Did you decide to stop treatment because you figured you could do it on your own, or were you pressured to by those around you? Did anyone tell you the dangers of quitting meds cold turkey or talk to you about weaning? Were you given speeches about bootstraps and soldiering on? Did your doctor think you were getting better and miss something? Were you even properly diagnosed and given the right kind of treatment? What led you to DC that day? WHAT HAPPENED?

I know that because you are no longer with us to tell your story, we won’t ever really have the answers to these questions-we won’t ever know the full truth. My heart aches with this knowledge. My heart breaks that the events that took place unfolded the way that they did and that your life was taken.

Since your death I’ve seen lots of discussion in the media about the state of your mental health, and lots of misinformation and a lack of distinction between postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, which is what it appears to be that you suffered from. I’ve seen anger and outrage over how the police responded to your actions, and calls for an investigation on their use of force policy. I’ve seen what happened to you become politicized and I’ve seen people make ugly, disgusting comments about you, a woman they’ve never met.

I’ve seen all of this and all I can think about is your precious daughter. When I do anger wells up in me and boils, but not for any of the reasons I see it embodying others. My anger is with our community, with our people. I’m angry that within the black community there is no focus placed on our mental well-being and on mental illness. We fight to quell violence and hardship in our communities but do little to nothing to fight for resources that can help us deal with the mental impact violence, abuse, and hardship has on us. We don’t talk to our children about mental illness, other than to point to “Crazy Ray” who lives down the street and further cement stigma about mental illness in their minds. We are misinformed and uneducated. We are ignorant. We think therapy and medications are for whites only. We are held hostage by a code of silence that throughout our history has kept us safe and helped us survived but is now killing us. Our churches tell us to pray more, have more faith, live right, strive for prosperity…but say nothing about the mental illness that is often quietly sitting amongst us in our congregations.

We will fight for Trayvon and for our black boys. We will march against those who believe it’s better to close our schools and build more prisons. We will rage at police brutality and systemic racism across the board. But when it comes to our mental health and the facts on mental illness we are cold…silent…apathetic…hushed…disbelieving and ignorant of the science and biological roots of mental illness and how vital a role environmental factors play in the manifestation of illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Our national black leaders and organizations speak little on this issue and make no demands for change. I would go as far as to say it’s not even on their radar or list of priorities. Narratives and dialogue on mental health in our communities is driven and dominated mostly by white advocates. Those of us who live with mental illness and choose to face the stigma within our community and society at large often aren’t given the same platforms and amplification as white advocates. Our outrage and concern for other issues drown out suicide prevention and mental health awareness. Campaigns and efforts are not targeted at us, in OB offices we don’t see our faces on pamphlets on PPD or other perinatal mood disorders, and our doctors rarely screen us effectively for it. Medicaid provisions often keep our single mothers from being able to get adequate treatment and access to resources on the mental health front. (I speak from experience)

All of this…has me angry. Has me raging on the inside, and pushes me to do more with the space I have here. As a woman and mother of color with bipolar disorder who has survived PPD,  I look at you, your daughter, and what happened, and the role mental illness probably played in this, and I rage and I feel a responsibility. To your memory and most importantly to your daughter I feel an obligation to do more, say more, fight for better within our community. Others can rage and decry the actions of the police if that’s what the feel is important. I will rage and decry the lack of education and honest dialogue about mental illness on a national level and within our own community. I will rage and push for you so that your daughter and other women of color get educated and aren’t ashamed to get help. I will rage against the “strong black woman” archetype that keeps so many of us from acknowledging we need help and treatment on this front. I will speak up, I will fight, I will advocate for you so that your death will not have been in vain.

I will do this because I know, Miriam, what it’s like to be touched by madness and struggle to survive in its death grip. I will do this because your story and your death have shown me that its past time we rise up, get real, and take responsibility for our mental health….and take action.

I will step up Miriam. I will continue to speak in the vacuum until our stories and experiences with mental illness are heard and taken seriously instead of dismissed or trivialized.

I’m so sorry we lost you. I’m so sorry you lost yourself. I’m so sorry your daughter will no longer have you. I’m sorry we couldn’t do better by you both. But know that now? We will.

I’m…Climbing…Out…

I am a Warrior Mom.

I have sat in the darkness of postpartum depression and anxiety feeling hopeless and lost. I have felt them rip my identity as a mother and a woman apart, leaving me feeling like a shell of a person, empty.

I’ve hid in closets, and cried on my bathroom floor because being near my children felt impossible to handle.

 

I’ve endured thoughts so intrusive I still can’t speak of them to anyone, let alone myself.

I lived with guilt over my inabilities to play, laugh, and hold my children-it feasted on my insides for months….and still comes back for more when I find myself on the low end of the bipolar mood spectrum.

I still live with shame over the rage that engulfed me for over a year, often over the trivialest things, in the most unexpected of moments. The screaming, the yelling…If there’s one part of my experience I wish I could erase it would be that.

And yet, in spite of the darkness I lived in after Alex’s birth, despite how sick I was, I survived. With support and treatment I overcame. I climbed out of that darkness. I became a Warrior Mom.

Tomorrow, I’m celebrating that accomplishment with over 100 other women across the United States and in 6 other countries.

My family and I will be heading to Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve here in Austin for a 2 mile trail hike. With each step I’m sure I’ll be emotional as I look at my boys and my husband around me and reflect on my experience with PPD…and I’ll again be overwhelmed with gratitude for Postpartum Progress and Katherine Stone.

If you’ve been a reader for any amount of time here, you know how much I credit Postpartum Progress and Katherine Stone with essentially saving my life and helping me come into my own as a mother. In January 2011, it was THE lifeline I needed that started to pull me out of the darkness of PPD & anxiety and eventually led to my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. You can read more about how Postpartum Progress helped me here and at the end of this post if you haven’t already.

3 weeks ago I joined fellow survivors and even those still fighting PPD in a campaign to raise funds for two very specific projects Postpartum Progress is working on. In those 3 weeks, we’ve managed to raise over 36K, and basically create a movement to honor our experience and give hope to others still finding their way out of the darkness Postpartum Progress helped us come out of.

We are Warrior Moms. We are climbing out and pulling others up with us today, the longest day of the year, to stand tall in the light of hope. I’m honored and humbled to be a part of something so significant with the most amazing women I’ve met in my life.

Let’s do this.

To learn more about Climb Out of the Darkness, what the donations are funding, and to donate to our hike on Saturday click here

 

No Shame Day: My Thoughts on Stigma, My Story

When I jumped on the Twitter this morning, I saw a tweet with a link to a blog  on Huffington Post titled, “No Shame Day: Working to Eradicate Mental Illness Stigma in the Black Community.”

After reading it, I clicked on the #NoShame hashtag and saw tweet after tweet from African-Americans detailing their struggles with mental illness and sharing how the stigma within the Black community regarding mental illness has had an impact on them.

I went to The Siwe Project website and cried reading story after story of other Black men & women who have had to suffer in silence because of how crippling and degrading the stigma is. Suffering from and living with a mental illness is difficult enough-having to battle and fight against stigma in addition to it makes it excruciating. It chokes out hope, leaving a person feeling alone, isolated, and unable to use their voice to advocate for themselves or their mental & emotional well-being.

I cried. A lot. I’m still crying as I type this. I wish I could put into words how encouraging and empowering it is to see other minorities living with depression, anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder. Seeing a photo of an African-American woman in a t-shirt that says “Bipolar II” makes me cry with relief because I recognize that I’m not a freak. I’m not weird. I don’t have a “that’s for white people” disease.

I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll say it again:

Black People Don’t Talk About Their Mental Health

 We don’t believe in the science that says our minds are malfunctioning due to imbalances in brain chemistry. We don’t believe in the science that shows that stress, trauma and other environmental factors can alter a person’s brain chemistry and thus lay the foundation for a mental illness or mood disorder to build itself upon.

We don’t believe in anxiety because the Black Church tells us that we are “too blessed to be stressed.”

We don’t believe in depression because really, we survived slavery, what in the world could we have to be depressed about? If our ancestors could survive oppression and if our grandparents could endure the cruelties of racism and Jim Crow, then we can get through anything. Without complaining about it.

To be diagnosed with something other than a physical illness just means that you have “issues” , and are “crazy.” And if you are “crazy” you and your family don’t talk about it. You don’t get help for it. You are shamed into silence, an embarrassment to your family.

That’s why seeing photos and reading tweets & stories of others boldly declaring their diagnosis’ has me in tears. I’m both humbled and emboldened by their courage to speak out loud because I know how difficult it is culturally for them to do so.

Finally. Black people are finally starting to talk about their mental health. Their struggles, their diagnosis’, the treatment they are getting.

Finally. I’m meeting other African-Americans who are “like” me. I’m not alone.

So I’m writing this post today to lend my voice to the movement that is saying enough is enough, let’s silence the voice of stigma by raising our own.

Many of you already know my story because you’ve been reading it here, for the past year and a half. But for those who don’t here it is:

My name is A’Driane. I have been struggling with mental illness since I was 16. In my early 20′s I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety (GAD) & Depression. After the birth of my second son I suffered from GAD and Postpartum Depression. Although I was in treatment for both, my shifts in mood and symptoms became much worse.

I was diagnosed a year ago this month (OMG it’s been a year already?!) with rapid cycling Bipolar Disorder II in addition to my GAD. I take 3 medications daily to manage my symptoms and have an excellent psychiatrist. Being in treatment for the past year and becoming educated on what Bipolar Disorder is has helped me recognize that I first started having manic and depressive episodes in my early 20′s.

My psychiatrist believes that there are several things that have contributed my developing this illness. Family history (my grandfather is schizophrenic), environment & trauma (I was abused in my childhood & teen years) and the changes in hormones after the birth of my children all created what she calls my “bipolar biology.”

My treatment plan involves medication, therapy, yoga, dancing, writing, and painting. I’ve also found a few fantastic online support groups on Facebook, and read books, blog posts, and articles to help me understand everything I can about my disorder.

Compliance and the road to stability has not been easy and there are days when the weight of it all overwhelms me and I want to give up. There are days when no matter what I do, my illness still gets the better of me and I want to give in and give up hope.

But I don’t because I want to make it. I want to live. For myself, for my boys, and so others can know that it’s possible to live a healthy life.

My hope is that days like today, and having a month like July deemed, “National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month“, will help de-stigmatize mental illness in our community and culture.

African-Americans don’t seek treatment for mental illness because they don’t understand what it is and what it is not, so I’m hoping No Shame Day and increased awareness educates our community and encourages those who are suffering to seek treatment.

We CAN eradicate stigma in our various communities, regardless of race. But it’s going to take more open dialogue, more people choosing to own & tell their stories, and most importantly, being educated.

Dedicating days to doing all of these things are crucial to helping change the conversation around mental illness. I’m proud to be doing my part.

For more No Shame Day stories, you can click here, and you can also read a piece from Ebony Magazine by writer Mychal Denzel Smith here

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.

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.

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.

Speaking Out on PPD, Motherhood, & Mental Illness

I made mention last week that I read one of my blog posts about PPD, motherhood and mental illness, during my university’s chapel session. This particular chapel was conducted by the Culture & Arts Association, one of my favorite clubs on campus, and the theme of the chapel was called “Through My Blurry Lens.” Several students spoke on various aspects of culture, bravely shared experiences they’ve had, and I was honored to be among them and do the same.

I read my post “Stealing It All Back….with Gratitude,” a post that was inspired by photos I took for a project conducted by the incredibly awesome Karen Walrond from Chookooloonks. Her gratitude.2012 project is designed to help develop a gratitude practice through photography AND your subscription helps an important charity. For more info you can click here, or the “gratitude 2012″ button over yonder on your right. Thanks for doing so and without further ado, here’s my reading…..if you think it would help someone you know who’s struggling with PPD, please share it as my prayer is that it gives them some hope that recovery DOES happen. There is light at the end of the tunnel….

“the shadow proves the sunshine…” (Switchfoot)

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.

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.