Adjusting Well, by Ann Jamison

I’ve never re-blogged anyone’s blog posts before, but I had to for this.  This piece–so moving and honest and raw–brought me to tears…reminding me so much of my own dark, lonely, helpless days of PPD.

Call to Participate in a PPD Survey

My dear friend Walker Karraa, er, I mean Dr. Walker Karraa, is looking for postpartum depression (PPD) survivors to participate in a survey on ways PPD changes women who experience it.

For those who have followed my blog for at least the past year, Walker’s name may sound familiar.  Almost exactly a year ago, I blogged about her need for participants in a dissertation on the transformational dimensions of PPD.  Thanks to the participants of that study, she was able to put together a wonderful dissertation that helped her earn her PhD in Philosophy (she uses philosophy to examine scientific, social and cultural paradigms of women’s mental health — particularly maternal mental health).

With respect to this survey for which she is now seeking participation of at least 500 women, the results will be used for the book she is now working on that will be based on her research into the ways PPD changes women.  Please, if you haven’t participated yet, take a few minutes to do so and if you aren’t a PPD survivor and know someone who is, forward them this information and encourage them to participate.  Thank you!

While you’re at it, please also follow Dr. Walker Karraa’s professional page on Facebook, the content of which is dedicated to the full spectrum of issues of regarding women’s mental health and wellness.  You can expect her to keep you abreast of important updates in research, events and news on maternal mental health.

If I Survived PPD, I Can Survive Most Anything

Since the new year began, I’ve had several situations loom over my head like a dark, ominous cloud.   All sorts of situations that I won’t get into detail here.  I’ve posted recently about and shared with friends in recent weeks the fact that I seem to have reached a turning point with the publication of my book.  A turning point in which I promised myself I would no longer let ghosts of my past continue to keep their stronghold over me.  My personal mantra has become “If I survived postpartum depression (PPD), I can survive most anything.”

In essence, ever since the start of this year–and it’s merely a coincidence that I’m vowing to stay on this path right now, at the beginning of 2013, but this is NOT any kind of new year’s resolution because I never make any–it’s like I’ve been self administering cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) by realizing how certain ways of thinking and behavior are self-defeating and highly detrimental to me and then telling myself to think and respond differently.  Basically, I’m going to be more self nurturing.  Because, you know what?  I’M WORTH IT.

So, what exactly am I going to do differently?  Well, for starters:

  1. I am going to say what’s on my mind when people say obnoxious things to me. I used to hold back, only to kick myself afterwards for doing so.
  2. I’m not going to let old crippling thoughts take control of me, like automatically thinking “Why me” and retreating under my covers (both figuratively and literally) in despair.
  3. I’m not automatically going to cower in defeat like a dog with its tail between its legs when I experience ANY kind of bullying–whether it be at work or online.  By “any” kind of bullying, I mean isolation tactics too, as excluding people deliberately is a form of bullying.
  4. I am going to continue my mission in maternal mental health advocacy, of helping moms feel less alone in their PPD experience through this blog.  I may be writing less frequently because, as time goes on, the anger that ignited the passion in this blog is waning.  Yes, anger used to fuel the stream of words that easily appeared in my blog posts.  Without anger, there is no passion.  Without passion, words fail me.
  5. I would like to increase my efforts when it comes to anti-bullying advocacy and providing support to teens struggling with issues of self esteem and bullying (support I needed but never got when I was a teenager).  For example, on January 30th, I learned about Noah’s struggle, and I immediately started to write a letter to him and didn’t stop that evening until I completed it.  I know and am very happy that so many caring individuals have written to Noah.  You can still do so.  He is turning 13 on Friday, February 8th.  Click here to see the Letters for Noah Facebook page where you can find out how you can help.
  6. And last, but certainly not least, I am not going to let my fear of speaking prevent me from speaking in front of people–be it on PPD (and my book) and/or on bullying.  They say some people fear public speaking more than they fear death.  Well, while that may not necessarily be the case for me, it comes pretty darn close.  I’ve been and will continue to keep the valuable tips I gleaned from Nicole of NWK Consultants in mind during speaking opportunities.

Basically, I am determined not to have any reason for karma to come biting me in the a$$ one day.  I want to live out the rest of my days knowing that I will do the best I can for my family, myself and whoever else I can help along the way.  I want to provide the kind of help I didn’t have when I was a teen and then a new mom struggling with PPD–both situations in which I felt alone and desperate.

This sign, which I stumbled across on Facebook and pinned a couple days ago, says it all for me.  I keep these words firmly engrained in my mind whenever there is a hint of thought that wants to derail my self esteem and put me on the glass half empty train.

If the words of this sign pertain to you, may it give you the strength to carry on as it is helping me.

BE PROUD OF YOURSELF.

My Journey to Motherhood Was Far from Perfect….and I’ve Learned to Accept That

This morning, I saw an acquaintance who had a baby just a couple weeks ago.  I told her she looked great, like she never even had a baby.  And she replied “I feel pretty good and yes, it does seem like I never even had a baby.”  I then said to her “You are blessed, you really are.”  To which she shrugged and that was the end of that conversation.  She didn’t think it was a big deal that she’d just had a baby, and I wasn’t about to make it a big deal.  She looked as good as she did before she had her baby.  She didn’t look tired.  She has two other children, and seems unphased by the new addition.  She really is blessed, she really is.

At that point, I felt really awkward.  I didn’t know her that well, so what else was there to say?  Though the conversation, albeit brief, stayed on my mind for a while today (because I immediately thought this would make for a good post), I refused to let it get to me.  Knowing what I now know, that I am far from the only one who didn’t experience a perfect pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum experience, I didn’t react with feelings of resentment, jealousy, or even regret like I probably would have if I hadn’t had postpartum depression (PPD) but was just struggling with my first crack at motherhood, all anxious and uncertain.

I reminded myself of what I’d written in my book….you don’t know what goes on in someone else’s life.  She could have relatives close by that can help watch her baby regularly and other two children and/or she could have a very good babysitting arrangement.  She seems to have a very laid-back personality, with no predisposition to anxiety, self esteem issues, or even pessimism.  She exudes confidence.  None of these describe me or my experience.  But again, I have to tell myself that I don’t really know what’s going on in her life.  How things appear in public could be very different from what they’re really like in the privacy of one’s home.

My journey to motherhood has taught me many things about myself.  I believe I was meant to experience PPD, and survive it…..and emerge from it a very different person.  Had I not experienced PPD, self doubt and self esteem issues would more than likely have engulfed me and caused me to react to situations like my conversation this morning with the mom with the “everything is hunky dory and oh, did I really just have a baby because I feel that awesome and look that great and motherhood is a snap” attitude in a–let’s just say–negative way.   Why would I have reacted in such fashion had I not experienced, and survived, PPD?  Well, unlike some moms, I had ZERO experience taking care of babies until I had my very own.  I never babysat, nor did my mother ever ask me to help take care of my two younger brothers.  When you have ZERO experience, your self confidence would naturally not be that great.    And in my pre-PPD days, my self esteem was so lousy that my self confidence would take a nose dive at every little thing.  Negative thoughts and attitudes people had about me once used to have a crippling effect on me.

For the past 3-1/2 years, I’ve come to know many moms who, like me, experienced far-from-perfect roads to motherhood.  I’m NOT the only mom who’s had infertility problems.  I’m NOT the only mom who’s lost pregnancies.  I’m NOT the only mom’s who’s had childbirth complications.  I’m NOT the only mom who’s had PPD.  I’m NOT the only mom who’s felt uncertain, anxious, and a failure at motherhood (and breastfeeding too).  I am FAR FROM ALONE in feeling like–how shall I say it–the opposite of a Supermom.

I am not going to let my negative experiences defeat me.  Instead, I’m going to take them and make the most of the rest of my life.  My PPD survival played a pivotal role in changing me…for the better.    My PPD experience—and subsequently writing my book and my blog—has given me a voice and a strength I didn’t previously know was possible for me to possess.  After I completed my book last year, it’s like I came out of a cocoon.  I metamorphosed into a new person.  This change has made such a positive difference in terms of my attitude at work and the attitude others have of me at work.  Rather than take offense to, get crushed by, and harbor grudges due to annoying and even condescending behaviors of colleagues at work, I let all that stuff slide now.  I tell myself it’s totally not worth getting bent out of shape about.  IF I SURVIVED PPD, I SURE AS HELL CAN LET THIS PIDDLY S#?T SLIDE.  Not only do I see the change in me, I feel that my colleagues have also seen the change in me.

So, am I going to let this morning’s conversation and realization that there are indeed people who have it seemingly easy when it comes to motherhood get to me?  Nope.

2012 Postnatal Depression Awareness Week – It’s Not All Black and White (Australia)

November 18-24 is Postnatal Depression (PND) Awareness Week – It’s Not All Black and White in Australia.  This is an initiative organized by PANDA, the Post and Antenatal Depression Association, located in Victoria, Australia.  As you can see, I don’t just blog about postpartum depression (PPD) news/events in the U.S., because PPD is an illness that is suffered by women all over the world.  My post for last year’s Blogging for World Mental Health Day sums up why public awareness about PPD is so critical.  PPD isn’t black and white.  There are varying “shades” of PPD and there is actually a spectrum of perinatal (before/during/after) mood disorders.  Each  mom’s experience will be unique in terms of duration, treatment, and symptoms.

Here is an excerpt from my book on the spectrum of perinatal mood disorders, or the different “shades” of PPD, that make it so darn challenging to understand by the public and even healthcare professionals:

PPD can occur anytime within the first year after you give birth. It can start as early as a few days postpartum, but appears to occur most frequently around six to eight weeks postpartum. It has even been known to occur in mothers weaning their babies at two years postpartum. PPD often serves among writers on the topic as a catch-all phrase for the spectrum of perinatal mood disorders, or those mood disorders occurring before pregnancy (antepartum, antenatal, or prenatal), during pregnancy, and after childbirth (postpartum or postnatal). The spectrum of postpartum mood disorders includes postpartum anxiety, postpartum panic disorder, postpartum OCD, and postpartum psychosis.

Not everyone who suffers from PPD suffers the same symptoms. The extent to which women suffer from PPD varies and depends on the woman’s biological makeup and past experiences with stressors. PPD experiences range from bouts of crying, heightened anxiety, and fatigue to feeling completely unable to function and to the extreme cases of postpartum psychosis where the mother may hurt or even kill herself and/or her baby. My symptoms were, for the most part, physical rather than psychological. For example, I had no self-esteem issues, and baggage from the past did not resurface (e.g., unresolved issues with a parent’s death or departure during childhood, I have to be a better mother than mine was, etc.). I felt so anxious and unable to function that I could barely get myself to leave the house for my doctor’s appointments. My only symptoms were insomnia, high levels of anxiety, and panic attacks. I was always prone to worry more than the average person, but I had never had any panic attacks before. Hard to believe that my fear of never being able to fall asleep and stay asleep on my own, without medication, could drive my body to have panic attacks. I wanted to fall asleep, but didn’t want to take the Ambien so that I could prove to myself that the insomnia was temporary. When I couldn’t fall asleep, that led to my panic attacks, where my heart raced uncontrollably, my extremities would turn cold, and, when I woke up each morning, I’d be in a cold sweat. All this was so overwhelming.

And:

  • Women throughout the world suffer from PPD, but just as one woman’s genetics, physiology, life experiences, and coping strategies are unique to her, one woman’s PPD experience will vary from the next woman in terms of the triggers, symptoms, severity, reaction to medication and/or therapy, and duration. The way everyone reacts to things like fatigue, stress, and lack of support is unique.
  • A woman may experience PPD for one but not all of her pregnancies.
  • PPD symptoms may differ from one episode to the next.
  • A woman who has suffered from nonpregnancy depression in the past can experience very different symptoms with PPD.
  • There is a wide range of possible symptoms.
  • The timing of the onset of symptoms varies, ranging from a couple of weeks to several months to as late as two years postpartum. Most cases begin six to eight weeks postpartum, though it can begin up to a year postpartum, and even as late as two years after childbirth due to weaning.
  • Recognizing the onset of PPD can be difficult due to the fact that such symptoms as mood swings, tearfulness, irritability, and anxiety are also symptoms of the baby blues.
  • Some amount of stress, anxiety, irritability, hypersensitivity, difficulty sleeping, and exhaustion (mental and physical) are considered normal consequences of having a brand-new baby to take care of. If you tell your doctor or another parent that you’re anxious and having trouble sleeping, he or she will look at you and say, “What new parent can sleep? It’s perfectly normal to feel some amount of anxiety.” Not being able to sleep at all even when the baby sleeps and you are utterly exhausted is insomnia, and you need to drive that point home.
  • Even women who had smooth pregnancies and deliveries, with no history of emotional problems or depression, can also develop PPD.
  • Fathers can also develop PPD.
  • Adoptive parents can also develop PPD.

Now, do you get why the tagline is so perfect for this awareness campaign?!

It gives me hope whenever I see a U.S. state–or in this case, a different country–acknowledge that PPD is a real illness and the stigma surrounding it must be combated through public awareness campaigns to educate the public about an illness that strikes in as many as 20% of new mothers.  Last year, Postpartum Support International declared May National Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month with a “Speak Up When You’re Down” Campaign, an awareness campaign dedicated to increasing support for pregnant and postpartum women and their families here in the U.S.  Certain states like California (CA Perinatal Mental Health Awareness Month), Oregon (Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month), and Illinois (Perinatal Mood Disorders Awareness Month) have passed legislation declaring May a month dedicated to educating the public of the resources/treatment programs available to women and their families should they experience a perinatal mood disorder, as well as reducing stigma associated with maternal mental health.  Other states like New Jersey and Massachusetts have passed legislation relating to public awareness, screening, research, and support services.

Now, getting back to the Land Down Under, there are some wonderful PPD bloggers and their blog posts in support of Postnatal Depression Awareness Week.  I’d like to highlight fellow alumna Debra Dane and her blog post, who does a great job explaining why this awareness week has the tagline of “It’s not all black and white,” and my friend Yuz Rozenblum’s Not Just About Wee blog post.

If you look at the end of each of these two blog posts, you will see all the posts written by other PPD mamas.  Please check them out!  For moms currently suffering from PPD, you are NOT alone.

Why I Wrote My Book “One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood”

A short post today, but I needed to take some time to acknowledge and thank my friend Lauren over at My Postpartum Voice.

Back in March 2009, a little over a month after I first started blogging, she posted an interview with me up on her blog, telling others about the new kid on the block as far as blogging about postpartum depression (PPD) is concerned.  Now, 3 years later, she has asked me to share a little about my book “One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood” with her blog readers.  So I’ve decided to share why I wrote my book.

In my Preface, I state the following:

“I certainly hope people will read this book and suggest others read it as well. This is not a matter of trying to sell a lot of copies for financial gain . In fact, I don’t expect to make a profit out of this effort at all [because it sure as heck cost me a bundle and I realize I will more than likely never earn it all back]. I absolutely enjoy the experience of having full control over the rights of this book, not to mention the cover design, content, layout, and even release schedule. Self-publishing is certainly the way to go nowadays, especially since you can get beautiful books that are just as accessible via online booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble! Sorry, I didn’t mean to digress. Anyway, the more people read this book and others like it, which are listed in [my Bibliography and] the “Other Resources” section, the more the public will be aware about PPD, the realities of motherhood, and the need for an increase in support services for new moms.”

Note:  The inadvertent leaving out of “my Bibliography and” is but one of a number of examples of how countless editing failed to pick up errors and would now cost me $$ to put into place.  I am seriously considering an updated version to be released a couple of years from now.

I hope that more and more PPD survivors who wish to publish books on their PPD experiences will follow through on their dreams.  As I mention over at Lauren’s blog, the process of writing and getting my book published was an extremely satisfying, confidence building, and therapeutic experience.

I truly admire Lauren’s dedication to helping moms suffering from perinatal mood disorders via her blog and her #PPDChat over at Twitter and now on Facebook.

Thank you, Lauren, for being such a wonderful women’s mental health advocate , for your support, and for your friendship.

One of My Sources of Inspiration

Seeing this photo of Lance Armstrong with sheer determination on his face (please go check out the image, which I was ever so tempted to post directly on  my blog but my gut was telling me I better not or I could get into some copyright-related trouble) in the Newsweek article by Buzz Bissinger titled “I Still Believe in Lance Armstrong” reminded me of just why Lance Armstrong has had such a huge impact on me, even though I am neither a cancer survivor nor a cyclist.  Heck, I’m not even athletic.   Why then would he have such an impact on me?  Well, for one, he is a survivor.  When the odds were not in his favor to beat the cancer that was threatening his life, he went on to beat those odds….and won.  This image of intense focus and sheer determination and willpower will forever be ingrained in my mind whenever I am faced with some sort of challenge, including moods that like to tank on occasion (like my last bout with PMS…see my last post), difficulties at work, feelings of doubt concerning the people in my life, or what have you.

The Preface of my book starts off with the following self quote:

If asked what individuals inspire me, I would answer: “Those who overcome adversity and share their experiences with others to chip away at ignorance and enable others in similar situations to benefit.”

And I go on to say the following a few paragraphs into my Preface:

Those impassioned about certain causes usually aren’t motivated in such fashion unless they are directly impacted by a life-changing experience, such as a serious illness, near-death experience, or surviving the death of a loved one. It takes these kinds of experiences to motivate individuals to try to make a difference in the world and to try to help others. Some are determined to help others by sharing their stories, like Brooke Shields, Marie Osmond, and Lance Armstrong.

Granted, he is obviously not a postpartum depression (PPD) survivor.  So why did I mention him along with the likes of Brooke and Marie, both of whom published books about their PPD experiences?  His book It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life left a very lasting impression on me.  It wasn’t so much the fact that he wrote that book but that he beat testicular cancer with a tumor that had metastasized to his brain AND lungs, and after beating the odds of surviving what was deemed an extremely poor prognosis, started up his Lance Armstrong Foundation to raise millions for cancer research, and went on to win the Tour de France not just once but SEVEN times.

Lance signing my autograph at NYC Bike Race – 8/4/02

Poster autographed by Lance at NYC Bike Race – 8/4/02

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is an organization that has endless amounts of money and time (to waste, evidently) to continue such a ridiculous witch hunt.  They know it was just a matter of time that he would give up.  After all, who has endless amounts of their own money to keep throwing away like that.  No one.  The USADA should be ashamed of themselves.  They’d be dumb to pass the medal down to the 2nd or 3rd or 4th, and so on, runner up to those races years ago.  Why’s that?  Cuz more than likely, they won’t pass the supposed doping tests either.  So, they might as well leave well enough alone.

USADA, you may have stripped his medals and banned him from pro cycling for good, but Lance is the winner of those seven Tour de France titles.  Period.  I am a forever Lance fan, and don’t care that people or organizations out there want to smear his name.  I know I am FAR from the only one who feels this way.  I’ve seen the countless tweets in his favor with the ones against him practically non-existent.

To anyone reading this who is in the midst of struggling with PPD right now, it might help to keep the image of Lance’s look of sheer determination and willpower firmly ingrained in your mind.  You WILL be well again, you WILL defeat PPD.  You CAN do it.  You just need to get the right help to set you back on the road to wellness.  Along the way, there will be ups and downs–kind of like the intensely steep inclines in the Alps that Lance mastered followed by the declines…well not really, but you know what I’m trying to say here–but you will reach the end of your PPD journey intact, victorious….a SURVIVOR!  Take it from me, a PPD survivor who was at one point fearful that I would never be well again.   Not only did I recover fully within a year after I started my treatment protocol, I emerged from my PPD journey stronger–and a whole hell of a lot smarter–than ever before!