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

 

Kicking Ass, Warrior Mom Style: An Update and a New Mission

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It’s been a long week. It’s kicked my ass, but rest assured I’ve been fighting back. Monday, as you know, I learned that the VA (the Central TX VA healthcare system in particular) does not provide psychiatric treatment for women … Continue reading

I’m Getting Married! Help Me Celebrate, Would Ya?

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My ring! Thank you Zales!

Guess who’s getting married y’all?

ME.

To Bertski.

If you’ve been a reader here for at least the past year, or know me personally, you know how huge this is considering how much he and I have been through the past three and a half years.  If you had walked up to me exactly a year ago today and told me that I’d be planning a wedding to the man I was separated from at the time, I would’ve shaken my head and walked away not believing any of it. We were so broken a year ago…barely able to speak to each other, both of our hearts raw from the emotional turmoil of a rocky relationship and dealing with my mental illness. I remember how I sat across from him and fought back tears and words that begged to be spoken as we ate dinner with the boys last New Year’s eve in Philly. I remember sitting in my car afterward, staring at myself in the rearview mirror at a red light, and seeing nothing but pain and loneliness in my eyes…it actually felt as though a knife was cutting through me and all I could think about was how I needed to let go of what was, and enter 2012 with open arms, forcing myself to embrace whatever it brought my way. “Let go…move forward,” were the words I used to describe my plans for the year when my therapist asked. “Well, I think that’s a good approach-you can’t embrace anything new if you’re still holding on to what was….and you can’t move toward anything if you’re focused on what’s behind you,” she replied.

I should call her and tell her how right and necessary her reply to me was at the time. As painful as they were to live out, her words helped me face the heartbreak I had been trying to ignore and parse my way through it, cleaning out all of the junk I’d let pile up in my heart in the process. It hurt like HELL, you hear me? HELL.

But I got through it. I let go. I forgave him. I embraced being his friend, and learned to love him unconditionally…..10 months later, here we are, living as a family in Austin….and getting married in March-the same month we decided to give our relationship one last try back in 2012.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around all that’s happened, and as I sit here thinking about it all, I just feel so much gratitude for the life we’re living at this moment-it’s a far cry from the devastation we had spent the last three years trying to just survive and recover from.

(deep breath)

8 weeks from now, we’ll be standing in an outdoor chapel, in front of those who have always supported us whether we were together or not, and vow to spend the rest of our lives with each other.

EIGHT WEEKS.

Needless to say I’m in full-blown wedding planning mode. (check out my pinterest wedding board!) Even though we’re keeping it a small and simple affair, there are still about a hundred “to-do” items and I’ve spent the last two weeks making reservations, emailing invites, talking to  dress designers, looking at rings….it’s been a whirlwind, but I’m doing my best to not be overwhelmed and enjoy this process because it’s exciting and I want to be present for every part of it.

Both Bertski and I keep saying how much we want that day and the coming weeks to be time of celebration, and every time I think of this, as corny as it sounds, my heart just swells with a joy I haven’t allowed myself to feel in a very, very long time.

So I’m spending the first 3 months of this year celebrating. Dancing, laughing, smiling…I’m giving myself fully to the freedom that’s found in it, and I’d love for you to join me!

How? Well, it’s simple, really. Our friends and family (and some of  YOU) have asked us about wedding gifts and such, so we created a gift registry….

BUT….

What we would really love, far more than an appliance, box of wine glasses, or the Big Bang Theory 400 question Trivia Game, is for people to help us celebrate our marriage by helping us give back. We feel like we’ve been given a tremendous gift, and yes, have been blessed beyond what we imagined these past months, so we’ve made it our goal this year to pay it forward in various ways.

This is where you come in….We have a list of charities and nonprofits that work to address issues that are personal to us or have affected us in some way. They are:

  • Cathedral Kitchen in Camden, NJ
  • Charity Water
  • Nothing but Nets

and the last one….the last one is Postpartum Progress, which many of you know pretty much saved my life after I had Alex, in more ways than one. It directed me to therapy and the treatment I needed, gave me a community of support I didn’t have, and introduced me to women who have become my best friends over the last two years. I honestly would not be here, Bertski and I would not be together if I hadn’t found Katherine Stone and the work she does with Postpartum Progress.

Would you consider making a donation to one of the above charities, especially to Postpartum Progress? It would mean so much to me and would help me give back all that I’ve been given as a result of Katherine’s dedication to making maternal mental health a priority….as well as help Bertski and I support organizations we feel are working hard to address hunger and disease prevention both here in the U.S. and abroad.

I know you probably think I’m crazy or tacky for doing this, but if you do make a donation of any kind, PLEASE email me and let me know. (dudley dot adriane at gmail dot com) I’d love to send you a card or something thanking you for celebrating with me, with us!

So…yeah. I’m getting married. I’M SO EXCITED! Be excited with me!

To learn more about any of the charities/nonprofits listed above, and make a donation, please visit these links:

Postpartum Progress: http://postpartumprogress.org/donate-postpartum-depression-2/ (you can also read the blog here: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/)

Cathedral Kitchen: http://cathedralkitchen.org/

Charity Water: http://www.charitywater.org/

Nothing but Nets: http://nothingbutnets.net/

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.

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.