Picking Up My Keys

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When I came home bone tired and emotional from Climb Out of the Darkness 2014 on Saturday, my husband met me at the door, wrapped his arms around me and held me tight. As I let myself sink into the … Continue reading

I’m Back Out in the World-Join Me

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Just over 4 years ago I was at the lowest point in my life, convinced that it was no longer worth living. Today, thanks to Postpartum Progress and a support system that includes other survivors as my closest friends & … Continue reading

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.

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 live with mental illness for the rest of your life. 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 might have suffered from, or possibly some other form of mental illness. 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, particularly for the WOMEN’S mental health, 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 might or might not have played in this, and I rage and I feel a responsibility. To your memory and most importantly to your daughter who witnessed such horrific violence that day, 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 they feel is most important. Speaking from experience I can say that law enforcement officials are not adequately trained on how to respond to situations when a possibly mentally ill person is involved. But 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.