A PPD/PPA Survivor’s Experience During the Coronavirus Outbreak

A brief note from Ivy:

Ever since the whole coronavirus thing started impacting us here in the U.S., I’ve been starting my emails and calls to friends, colleagues and clients with “I hope you are doing well.”

For those who read this post, I hope you ARE doing well.  The past couple of weeks have been a period of great uncertainty and adjustment for all of us.  I’ve been trying very hard to go with the flow and not to be overly anxious about what’s going on and the fear that I and members of my family would fall ill with the coronavirus.

It is normal to be anxious.  During this period of uncertainty and anxiety, remember to use your coping skills.  Breathe, listen to music, read a book, connect with people via Facetime, Zoom, Facebook, or any of the other numerous apps out there.  Even churches have been holding online services.

If you are struggling, visit this site to learn some things you can do to take care of your mental health in the face of uncertainty.  You may also call the national Disaster Distress Helpline ( 24/7) at 800-985-5990 for emotional support and crisis counseling if you are experiencing distress or other mental health concerns.  Calls are answered by trained counselors who will listen to your concerns, explore coping and other available supports, and offer referrals to community resources for follow-up care and support.

If you are a new or expectant mom or even a mom who has had a postpartum mood disorder in the past, you know you can rely on the support of Postpartum Support International volunteers and staff to support you if you are feeling anxious. PSI provides support to mothers and their families every day via 800-944-4773 or text 503-894-9453 (Eng) or 971-420-0294 (Español). Additionally, PSI’s free online support groups meet every Tuesday (and now every Thursday as well).  Meet other moms virtually, share your story, build a community and hang out with other moms! Find info on timings and register here.  Please also like the PSI Facebook page for daily updates, including changes to frequency of online support groups.

Stay healthy and safe.

Warmly,
Ivy

*******************

And here is my friend Stacy M’s experience during the coronavirus situation:

Tonight G said something that stopped me in my tracks. I’ve worried so much about regression with him.

At dinner, he announced:”You know I used to do this funny thing where I lined up all my animals on the steps all the time and it was so weird. I don’t know why I would do such a thing.”

I have tons of pictures on our iCloud when he would stim and line his dolls up in his own special way.  We never interfered with what he was doing and just let him run with it. We were always so careful to avoid knocking anything out of place.  We would leave his masterpieces around for days and days.

He has slowly outgrown this behavior. It’s been a while since he has lined things up. I didn’t even realize it….until now.

Now, with the whole coronavirus situation and with schools being closed, life has changed so much these past two weeks.  I have been worrying about what I would do if I had to step in for his teachers and do everything they’ve been doing that have helped him so much.

I was a broken soul his first two little years of life when I suffered terribly with severe postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum anxiety (PPA).  I was crippled by PPD/PPA for some time.  It’s been 6 years since I felt the kind of despair that I felt when I suffered from PPD/PPA.  PPD/PPA paralyzed me so much that I was even afraid to hold my children (G has a twin sister) for the first year.

Then, when I noticed that G was showing signs of autism around 9 months old, the only way I knew I could help him was to secure as much help as I could with his autism. Even though I felt broken, as long as I had the right help for G, things would be fine.  I have always hated asking for help, but for my sake and for G’s sake, I had to let help in and let help heal us. Once I finally got my feet on the ground, I did better and so did G. We have been making progress and thriving ever since.

However, now with this new way of life of social distancing due to the coronavirus, I have been hit with a wave of feelings that brought me back to the days when I had PPD/PPA. Being a mother during these times is really tough. It’s not the kind of world I ever imagined my family and I would ever have to experience. I have done everything in my strength to be able to function well again.  But now, I’ve been experiencing waves of uncertainty from fear of the unknown, as I (along with everyone else around me) have never experienced what we are now experiencing.  The sudden turn of events requiring everyone to stop going to work, stop going to school, stop getting together with friends and relatives, and even stop going out unless we really had to caught everyone off-guard.  No one could prepare for any of this.

I’ve been having some tears build up for days now.  But I take deep breaths daily.  I’m taking one day at a time.  I have learned that I CAN teach my children from home. I have learned that I CAN manage this.  I HAVE been managing.

The fact that G could reflect on such behavior tonight made me feel so proud of myself and of him that we’ve come so far despite all the obstacles.

What I want to tell other new mothers and mothers to be is to not be afraid to ask for help and to rely on a support system.

It is important to communicate and put one foot in front of the other, one step and one day at a time.

It will all make sense again. It’s okay to be scared, it’s okay to cry right now, and it’s okay to talk about your fears and get them off your chest.

We may be quarantined but there are many online support groups that can help while we still need to maintain social distancing.

You are never alone.

– Stacy M

Diana, A True Musical Story

Happy Daylight Savings Day! Happy International Women’s Day! And happy longer & warmer days!  Looks like the groundhog was right…at least here in the NY metro area, spring is starting early this year!  I’m not going to speak of snow, specifically, for fear of jinxing myself.

I haven’t blogged in ages!  I’ve said that I have slowed down on blogging but will probably never fully stop, as I always have thoughts about postpartum depression (PPD).  I’ve blogged previously about television shows, movies and Broadway shows that delve into the topic of mental health and PPD, in particular. This time, it is the Broadway musical “Diana, A True Musical Story” that is motivating me to write today.  I saw the musical 2 nights ago in its first week of previews, and loved it.  Though, I do think the end needs some fine-tuning; I guess being in previews for the next few weeks leaves them some room to make adjustments, hopefully?  The music was written by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan who’d won a Tony award for “Memphis” and who I’m fairly sure will get a Tony nomination for Diana.  Another certain Tony nom is the one for best leading actress in a musical for Jeanna de Waal who is amazing as Princess Di….she captures all of Princess Di’s mannerisms, the way she carried herself, walked, etc.   There will no doubt be other Tony noms, including one for Judy Kaye for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth, Best Costume Design of a Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, and of course Best Musical.

I am blogging about this show and about Diana because she posed as a beacon of light for those suffering from mental health issues.  During one of the scenes in which Diana had just given birth to Prince William, postpartum depression was mentioned.  Hey, a shout out about the condition that affects 1 out of 7 new moms!  I couldn’t contain myself and said out loud “Wow, they actually mentioned postpartum depression.” Good for you, Christopher Ashley and Joe DiPietro, for including this important experience of Princess Diana in this musical production!   I am grateful that this show was created to share with young and old: those who were around and when she was alive and loved her (like me) and those who weren’t born until after her death.   She wasn’t referred to the People’s Princess for nothing.  In her short life, she touched so many lives, most of whom had never even met her.

She was a woman ahead of her time, inspiring not only fashion trends, but through her courage of not holding back, not letting her situation crush her, and moving on with her life the way she wanted to live it….

Free of the yoke of being told what she could/couldn’t do because it was considered unbecoming of a princess and a woman.  While reciting her wedding vow to Prince Charles chose to omit the word “obey”….she was the first royal bride to do this, with Kate Middleton and Megan Markle following in her footsteps.  Additionally, she wore her infamous off-the-shoulder and body hugging black “Revenge Dress” (I won’t spoil what the show referred to this dress as, it will crack you up, I assure you) to a Vanity Fair dinner on June 29, 1994 because she knew Prince Charles was going to officially confess his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles there.

Free of the yoke of being tied to a man who didn’t love her.  She confronted Camilla Parker Bowles, the woman Prince Charles was having an affair with, at Camilla’s sister’s 40th birthday party.  During her famous 1995 BBC interview with Martin Bashirshe let the public know “There were three in the marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”  And soon after the interview in 1996, she again broke from religious/royal convention by getting divorced.

Free of the yoke of being Princess of Wales, speaking her mind, leading from her heart, and making the world fall in love with her.

  • She broke from the mold of royalty by being true to herself and honest and open about her feelings with the public.  Her interviews, biographies, recordings and book “Diana-Her True Story by Andrew Morton” (published in 1992) reveal her sense of humor, candor, and heart of gold. Diana was not afraid to tell the world that her life with Prince Charles was far from the fairytale-like marriage people believe it to be.  People in England and all over the world fell in love with her.
  • She was determined to fight the stigma of HIV and AIDS even though the Queen often voiced her displeasure about such efforts.  There are numerous pictures of her shaking hands and conversing with HIV/AIDS patients without any protective gear on.  She became involved with numerous charities in Africa that made a huge impact internationally with respect to the treatment of AIDS.
  • She was determined to fight the stigma of mental health issues like self harm, bulimia, and PPD.  Back in 1982 when Diana gave birth to Prince William, PPD was something that was never discussed with anyone. Her pregnancy was a difficult one.  She didn’t feel well throughout it, and things got worse after she had the baby. All the pressures of being a wife, a mother and the people’s princess were too overwhelming for her.  She worried constantly and struggled in silence.  She would cry and feel panicked whenever Prince Charles didn’t come home when he said he was coming home.  She kept her panic to herself.  The public noticed her getting thinner during her public appearances, which she explained was due to the fatigue from first-time motherhood. In her book “Diana-Her True Story” and her 1995 BBC interview, she finally opened up about her struggles with self harm, eating disorders, and PPD (the root of it all had to do with how unhappy she was with her marriage and how alone she felt).  Diana revealed that she had received very little support from the royal family when she was sick with PPD because they didn’t know what to do, because people back then (and even in many places and cases today) didn’t really know what PPD was.

When no one listens to you, or you feel no one’s listening to you, all sorts of things start to happen. For instance you have so much pain inside yourself that you try and hurt yourself on the outside because you want help, but it’s the wrong help you’re asking for. People see it as crying wolf or attention-seeking, and they think because you’re in the media all the time that you’ve got ’enough attention.’ But I was actually crying out because I wanted to get better in order to go forward and continue my duty and my role as wife, mother, Princess of Wales. – from her BBC interview

The royal family went around saying that “Diana is unstable, Diana is mentally unbalanced” (these words were used in the musical).  Having such negative labels associated with her was unfortunate.  She wasn’t just a first-time mother trying to be the best mother for her child; she was also a young woman trying to adapt to her life as a princess. Between these pressures and the lack of emotional support / personal time and space, her toxic marriage, history of her own mother walking out of her life when she was a small child, shame from not being able to cope with everything, and lack of self esteem, it’s no wonder she suffered from PPD!  So many risk factors!

She never got professional help because she didn’t really ask for it due to the shame she felt.  And yet she soldiered on….the People’s Princess to the very end of her life that was tragically cut short right after her 36th birthday on August 31, 1997.  I will never forget where I was (I was walking in an open market in Sydney, Australia) when I heard the tragic news.

Please go check it out if you were one of the many who fell in love with Princess Di that you were heartbroken for weeks after she died.  Please go check it out if your life hasn’t previously been touched by Princess Di and want to be inspired by the story of a woman way ahead of her time.  From the beginning of her marriage to Prince Charles to the end of it, she managed to become a powerful, independent woman despite all the royal restrictions that were in place.  In the end, she packed her bags and left, refusing to be stuck in a loveless marriage.

Dads Do Get PPD Too

I haven’t blogged about this important topic–of dads getting postpartum depression (PPD) too–since 2012, so it’s high time I do so now as I’m catching up during my stay-cation!

My previous posts are:
Fathers and Postpartum Depression
A Father’s Day Post: The Effect of PPD on the Dad
Shame on You, The Guardian, for Perpetuating Negative Notions on Mental Health Issues and Denigrating Men at the Same Time

In today’s post, I have a bunch of articles, and even a recent Today Show segment about PPD in dads, that I’d like to share.  PPD in dads is not a topic that you see much of because, after all, it’s the new mother whose body goes through a lot of physical changes before, during and after pregnancy.  After all, she’s the one who carries the child for months and after giving birth experiences roller coaster emotions, thanks to all the hormonal changes.  It’s bad enough that PPD is still so misunderstood (and what comes with lack of knowledge/understanding is stigma) in women, but the scoffing that men face when they find themselves suffering from PPD is even worse.

Men can and do experience depression after a child’s birth.  Risk factors include a personal history of depression, a wife that has PPD, a baby with health issues, colicky baby, first-time fatherhood and uncertainties due to inexperience, stress at work, etc. I personally know someone who experienced it briefly after the birth of his first daughter, and he was fortunately able to avoid it after his second daughter was born.

The Today Show that aired on August 3rd focused on the story of Dr. David Levine, a pediatrician who also happened to be a new father who suffered from PPD.  Dr. Levine, who talks about his experience with PPD, is accompanied by subject matter expert, Dr. Catherine Birndorf (psychiatrist and co-founder of The Motherhood Center) whom I’ve met previously at a Postpartum Support International conference, and Erika Cheng (assistant professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine).

 

This is not, by the way, the first time the Today Show has focused on PPD in men.  On July 1, 2015, there was a very good article on it titled “Not just moms: postpartum depression affects 1 in 10 new fathers.” The article features the experience of Mark Williams, founder of  Fathers Reaching Out and Dads Matter UK.  The article also features information about PPD in fathers by subject matter expert Dr. Will Courtenay, who founded Postpartum Men.

On August 11, 2018, I spotted a CBC (Canada) article about PPD in men titled “New dads show signs of postpartum depression too, experts say.”

On May 19, 2017, I spotted a Deadspin article titled “A Q&A with Tony Reali About Postpartum Depression and Anxiety in Dads.” I know this article is a bit old….I have had this article up for the past 15 months!  I told you I had a lot of catching up to do!  Tony Reali is the host of ESPN’s Around the Horn.

 

In the Wake of the Recent Celebrity Suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

I am shaken by the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade.  Very shaken.  Although I was never much of a fan of Kate Spade’s hand bags, shoes, clothing and jewelry, I was a pretty big fan of Anthony Bourdain’s for the simple fact that he brought very different people together around the world through an appreciation, respect, and curiosity of the vast array of cuisines and cultures.

These very successful individuals that you never once heard had any issues with depression or other mental health issues are suddenly taking their own lives.  I’ve seen comments that there are so many veteran suicides each day.  Don’t they matter?  Well, everyone matters……

Veterans matter.
Celebrities matter.
Mothers matter.
Fathers matter.
Young people matter.
Old people matter.

Why are we making such a big deal out of these celebrities?  For one, you see them on television, in newspapers, on the news, etc.  When you see them, do you ever see them depressed?  Unhappy?  Nope.  Do you ever hear about them being depressed?  Unhappy?  In Kate’s and Anthony’s situations, I do not believe there has ever been any mention of any struggles with depression.  I truly hope that the good that comes from these recent, high profile suicides that took place one after another–all in less than a week’s time–is a greater understanding that you can’t base the well-being of a person on looks, societal status, race, and religion alone.  People may have a history of mental illness and you would never know by looking at them.

Poor people have mental health issues.
Rich people have mental health issues.
Outgoing people have mental health issues.
Shy people have mental health issues.
Self confident people have mental health issues.
People lacking self confidence have mental health issues.
People of every race have mental health issues.
People of every religion have mental health issues.
[Don’t kid yourself if you believe the above statements are not true.]

The other thing I keep seeing is something that totally pisses me off.  People bad-mouthing the deceased with “Suicide is selfish.”  How the heck would you even know what they were going through?  They could have been battling so much pain for so many years, but how would you know?  Tell me, because I would love to know.  Are you like an alien and can take over the person’s body so you can know exactly how that person is feeling?  This reminds me of a previous post that I want to bring up again here.  All it takes is one day for you to know the extent of suffering that a person experiences.  I wish the haters and people passing judgment could walk in the shoes of a person battling bipolar disorder, PTSD, and depression.  After you go through that experience, then let’s talk.  Until then….SHUT. UP.

What’s truly behind the surface can only be determined if we sit down and spend time with them.  So, think about your circle of friends–not all thousand people that may be in your FB circle cuz, let’s face it, not everyone in that circle is truly a friend–and create a list of people you haven’t spoken to, heard from and/or seen in a while.  And arrange to meet them over a meal, and if not a meal, then coffee.  Or invite them over to your house.  Or visit them at their home.  Whatever you do should facilitate a conversation.  A real conversation.  A good ol’ fashioned in-person chat.  No social media.  No texting.  No emails.   The way it was in the good ol’ days before all this “social media” got in the way of forging true relationships.  That’s what we need more of.

Which brings me to this….as it seems society has degenerated thanks to social media that we now need people to create places like Sip of Hope, just to have a place where people can (truly) talk.

I saw a video on my Facebook feed, posted by a Facebook page called Well-Rounded Life a couple days ago about the brand new  coffee shop, Sip of Hope, that opened  at Logan Square, Chicago, last month during mental health awareness month.  Sip of Hope is run by Hope for the Day, founded by Jonny Boucher.  Here’s the link to the Chicago Tribune article that talks about what the coffee shop hopes to accomplish.  Hope for the Day is a Chicago not for profit that aims to raise awareness around suicide prevention and mental illness.  All proceeds will go to Hope for the Day.  It presents a unique approach of opening up a coffee shop for the purpose of allowing people to come in and talk, as well as eliminate stigma of mental health issues.  Baristas double as mental health aides.  There are pamphlets/flyers containing info on local mental health resources.

Good on ya, Jonny Boucher, for coming up with this idea and having it come true.  I sincerely hope this coffee shop stays open for a very long time, and other Sip of Hopes will open across the country until every major city has one!

Below is the video that was on CBS News before the grand opening:

 

The Recovery Letters

I just realized I haven’t posted for over a month, since the end of May!  Wow, where did June go?!  I posted on Facebook not long ago that I vowed to somehow make the most of the summer–my favorite season–because before you know it we will be in depressing winter again.

This is just a quick post on this sunny Saturday in July.  With only 13 days to go before the official release of the book The Recovery Letters, edited by James Withey and Olivia Sagan, I wanted to let you know that I had written a letter that is included in this anthology meant to give hope to those suffering from depression.  The book is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, and the book is available on a pre-sale basis via Amazon UK.

Recovery Letters

I am so honored to be included in this anthology.   Thank you, James, for giving me this wonderful opportunity to let my voice be included in this collection of letters written by folks far and wide….folks of different ages and stages in life that share a common bond: depression.

Depression is more common than you think.  Visit the WHO factsheet about depression to learn about it and to learn just how prevalent it really is.

Just to be clear, this is not a paid venture….my whole name is not even included in the book.  But I don’t care.

I want to help others, to make a difference in the lives of others.

I want to provide the kind of help I didn’t get when I was suffering and feeling all alone in what was happening to me.

I went into that experience not knowing what was wrong with me and why.

I went from not understanding what depression is like one day to the next day experiencing the following firsthand:   Insomnia, panic attacks, rapid weight loss, and not being able to control how I felt / *snap* out of it / pull myself out from the darkness that was engulfing me and dragging me into the pit of despair and feelings of hopelessness that I would never be myself again.

Knowing you’re not alone in a very isolating condition like depression can make a world of a difference for those who are suffering from it, which is why The Recovery Book will be good for so many people to read.

I am truly excited for James, as he has been collecting these letters since 2012.  I know what it’s like to dedicate many years toward a work of passion and to finally see it come to fruition.

Congrats, James!

Dear Evan Hansen: The Broadway Musical That Connects Us All

Congratulations to Dear Evan Hansen for its Tony Award nominations!  From the time I first heard Ben Platt sing “Waving Through A Window” weeks before the show even hit Broadway, I decided I had to see the show as soon as it came out.  So, see it I did during previews in November 2016.  AND IT WAS AMAZING!!!

And how a propos that the nomination occurred this past week during Mental Health Awareness Month, as the theme of the show is high school students struggling with social anxiety, drug addiction, depression and suicide.  Yes, it’s a pretty deep theme for a musical, but the cast, music and overall production are so amazing that the show has been sold out for weeks especially with the Tony Awards coming up on June 11th.  Thank you to the amazing cast, crew, director and producers for bringing such an important topic to the Broadway stage!

Ben Platt’s voice and acting were out-of-this-world-good.  No one else would be able to carry out the role of Evan the way he’s been carrying it out since the show hit the Broadway stage last November (oh, excuse me, since the show was first performed in Washington, DC from July 10, 2015-August 23, 2015 and then Off-Broadway from March 26, 2016-May 29, 2016).

It’s not surprising that Dear Evan Hansen has garnered 9 Tony nominations, and I would be extremely surprised–not to mention, disappointed–if it doesn’t win at least Best Actor in a Musical and Best Score for the amazing lyrics of Oscar-winning La La Land lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.  It was these lyrics in addition to the cast’s vocals that helped the musical’s cast recording to debut in the Billboard album chart’s top 10….the first time for a Broadway musical recording to do so since the 1960s.  Yes, you heard right!  Hamilton didn’t even debut in the Billboard album chart’s top 10 (it debuted at #12).  After the Dear Evan Hansen album was officially released on February 3, 2017,  it landed in the #8 spot on the Billboard 200 chart, and in so doing, it becomes the highest-charting musical since Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot debuted at #4 in 1961. Yes, you heard right!  It’s only one of 4 musicals to earn a top 10 Billboard spot in the past 50 years other than Hamilton, Book of Mormon, and the original 1969 production of Hair!

Here’s the video of the April 25, 2017 performance of “You Will Be Found” on the Today Show.  I cried from the moving lyrics while at the show, just as watching the intensity of the singers singing the emotional lyrics brings tears to my eyes each time I watch this video (I watched it about 5x in a row after I stumbled across it on the Internet this afternoon)…until I finally decided to write about this on my blog.  Here are the lyrics.

 

We need more shows like this (similar to Chicago Med) that show regular people–regular people like Evan or even like me (I had postpartum depression but most people around me didn’t know I even had the condition until I opened up months or even years later via my blog)–living around us that are struggling to cope with some sort of mental illness but you wouldn’t know it unless they shared that with you.  Mental illness is not just about some “nut” or “psycho” that’s dangerous to others…..nor is it something that you can control and “snap out of” at the blink of a finger or via spa treatment or buy buying yourself something nice.

We decrease stigma and shame by normalizing mental health issues. And why wouldn’t we?  After all, just to give you an example of how prevalent depression is, according to statistics, approximately 14.8 million adults–or 6.7% of Americans aged 18 and older–are affected by it in any given year.  Shows like Dear Evan Hansen brings much-needed awareness to mental health challenges that are very much a part of all too many people’s lives, people like Evan Hansen.  Like Evan, all too many people need help but go unnoticed.

Dear Evan Hansen connects us all.

If you live in the NY metro area, I recommend you see this show.  If you’re not in the NY metro area, I recommend you listen to the full Broadway recording on Youtube.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741

Here are some other important Suicide Prevention Resources:

Steve Bannon’s Ignorance on Mental Health

 *** This post may be triggering if you are suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) and are sensitive to negative news events***

Here I am, posting again….wow, it’s now 3x in one month.  I haven’t posted with such frequency in a long time.  Guess you can say the state of this country is heavy on my mind.  I had said in my last post that I wasn’t going to talk politics since this site is dedicated to maternal mental health.  I was planning to stick to that guideline.  But then I hit a snag in my plans, thanks to a post I read about Bannon, the individual that Trump has selected to be his chief strategist.  Bannon made a comment about mental health that triggered me so much it had me flashing back to the trigger that set me off on a 6-year journey to publish a book about my postpartum depression (PPD) experience.  What trigger is that?  Well, if you’ve been following my blog for some time and/or you read my author bio, you would know that Tom Cruise and his There’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance comment triggered me back in 2005.  But the outcome of the trigger was good, as I have my blog and book as the end result. And yes, I do thank TC in my Acknowledgments.

There’s nothing good about this trigger related to Bannon, though.  TC is just an ignorant actor. But Bannon is an ignorant white supremacist who will have a role in the White House and will have far more negative consequences than TC ever had.  Bannon made a statement that the cure for mental illness is to spank your children more.  Excuse me?  What.The.Fuck. (oops, forgot to use $ or other symbol to fill in for the “u” for the very first time…..there’s a first time for everything, as they say).  I’ve truly had it with this whole election.  I’ve had it with all the hatred, misogyny and bigotry.  With the cheeto about to become our President and the alt right using him as a tool to ensure there are at least 4 years of revenge for the 8 years they had to suffer under President Obama, they have populated the leadership team with known racists (Bannon, Sessions, Flynn) and ensuring that racism becomes the new normal.  My passion for matters related to racism stems from my being bullied as a child for my race.  But I’m not going to digress here (even though anti-bullying is my other passion)……

Note: If you’re a Trump follower trolling this blog post and thinking I’m bullying Bannon or Trump, then think again.  Bullying is DIRECT harassment to them personally.  I’m exerting my 1st amendment right voicing my thoughts on my own blog.  Thank you very much.

<directing myself back on track….>

Bannon, just like I’ve been wishing to tell Tom Cruise in person, I wish I could tell YOU in person, if you’ve never been through mental illness yourself, then:
Shut the f*ck up.  
Shut.Your.Ignorant.Mouth.Up.  

And get educated about mental illness and how it REALLY works.  It’s not mind over matter, you dimwit.  Take a few minutes to read a blog post that may help you see the light when it comes to PPD.  There are plenty of articles from health organizations and blog posts on the Internet for you to learn the TRUTH behind mental illness.  But I’m pretty sure you won’t bother to spend a second to read anything because you think you know it all, don’t you.

Here’s where, if I could be granted 3 genie wishes, one of them would be to make all haters/bigots switch places with the ones being hated and the ones who keep insisting that mental illness is mind over matter to switch places with those who are battling a mental illness (e.g., depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc.).  You will learn in an instant that the logic you’ve been upholding is COMPLETELY WRONG.  See my past post on this titled “All It Takes Is One Day.”  One day to experience a mental illness yourself, firsthand……THAT’S ALL IT TAKES to snap you to reality and stop living in a world based on assumptions (that only make a$$es out of you).

And speaking of backwards, as women, we should not let ourselves be dragged backwards when it comes to our rights. We must stand up for ourselves and for each other.  We must work harder than ever to support organizations that will help us stay on track when it comes to mental health and women’s rights, especially during the time that women are most vulnerable–i.e., before, during and after childbirth.  Please join me in doing this!

If you’re a mom suffering from PPD right now, please be comforted in knowing that there are plenty of people in this country and around the world who care enough to make it a goal to help moms like you.  Please reach out to me, reach out to others with blogs, Facebook pages….we will help you get through this.

You WILL get through this.  I got through it stronger than ever before, and so can you!

Peace to you.

Hats off to Chicago Med

I just watched my 3rd episode of “Chicago Med”….yet another brilliant TV show created by Dick Wolf of “Law & Order” fame. My only regret was not discovering this show sooner! This show has a thoughtfully-written script and characters realistically portrayed by a great cast in a way that–much like “House” in its first season–draws you into each episode.  Oliver Platt plays the Chief of Psychiatry at Chicago Med, and I think he’s doing an awesome job!  The best part about “Chicago Med,” IMO,  is the fact that it’s the only show, as far I’m aware, that affords a weekly story line delving into the realm of mental health.  Yes, MENTAL HEALTH.  There are multiple story lines happening concurrently with the cast, but from I’ve seen from the 3 episodes I’ve watched, the focus of each week’s episode is primarily about a situation involving mental health.  Not just an occasional acknowledgment here and there during a whole television season that yes, there are health issues that aren’t entirely medical in nature (think Dr. House and his addiction to vicodin for his “pain”) but a FULL story line each and every week dedicated to at least one person struggling with a mental health issue.

Finally, prime time television is taking a serious stab at shedding light on mental health!  For that, I am grateful.  You know why? Because we need to talk more about mental health conditions.


Depression…..PTSD…….Suicide……Obsessive Compulsive Disorder…..Bipolar Disorder….Self Harm….Eating Disorders…..Postpartum Depression…..Sociopathy……Borderline Personality Disorder…..Schizophrenia……etc.


 

Every single person out there knows someone who has experienced one or more of these mental health issues.  You wouldn’t know that, though, because the tendency is for people to hide these things thanks to misconceptions spawned by the very little that we do know about them.

Thank you, “Chicago Med,” for shining a light on mental health.  I look forward to future episodes, and hope that more and more people will start watching the show.  My hope is that “Chicago Med” will prompt other show producers/directors to create more shows like this, realizing the need to make mental health a part of our daily discourse and encourage discussions and curiosity about these conditions and create a mentality that “Hey, a mental health condition deserves to be diagnosed and treated the same way as, say, diabetes or a heart condition.”

Keeping mental health conditions swept under a rug and a mystery from the public creates a taboo mentality that mental health conditions don’t deserve to be treated and you should just “snap out of it” or stop imagining that you even have any kind of condition in the first place.  Part of the problem is that mental health conditions are, as quoted in the episode tonight, “invisible.” In tonight’s episode, Dr. Ethan Choi (played by Brian Tee) continues to battle the effects of his PTSD from serving in the military.  His girlfriend Vicki makes a reference to mental health conditions as being difficult to diagnose/treat because they don’t necessarily exhibit any physical symptoms and/or there doesn’t appear to be a medical explanation for those symptoms.  Modern medicine and technologies are making headway–albeit slowly- in assisting doctors and psychiatrists to confirm and/or make diagnoses via brain scans.  The patient under Dr. Choi’s care in tonight’s episode appeared to also be a victim of PTSD from being in combat, but it was through Dr. Choi’s keen observations that they ultimately determined the patient had excessive scar tissues near his heart that caused the sound of his heart beating to echo loudly in the poor guy’s head.  So, he wasn’t imagining things and he most certainly wasn’t suffering from PTSD like he was insisting from the beginning!  And of course, no one believed him!  This is where I applaud the writers for writing a script that shows that, even though someone may appear to be suffering from a mental health condition, you can’t assume that there isn’t a physical or medical explanation for what the person is experiencing until you take the time to determine the root cause for a patient’s experience.  Just like depression has a scientific explanation, like a hormonal and/or neurotransmitter imbalance, there is a biological explanation behind every mental health disorder. And it’s the task of research scientists to figure that all out, and I pray they hurry the heck up because we are losing too many people each year to mental illnesses!

I end this blog post with a call for “Chicago Med” to include an episode or two on postpartum depression. We desperately need an episode that informs the public of the difference between postpartum depression and other postpartum conditions like postpartum OCD, postpartum psychosis and postpartum bipolar.  Please, please, please, Dick Wolf and team of writers: please reach out to Postpartum Support International today and collaborate together on a series of episodes on postpartum mood disorders.

If you look at the statistics, how can people NOT produce more shows on a topic that touches so many lives?

 

 

History in the Making for Maternal Mental Health Advocates

I’ve been super busy at work these days, sometimes having to work at night, which is why I haven’t blogged much lately. But I couldn’t let today go by without mentioning the announcement today about a major step in the right direction….finally!  First thing this morning, I received a text from a friend to check out an article in the NY Times about postpartum depression (PPD), followed immediately by an email from my husband with a link to the same article.

Mental health advocates are excited not just about the news that splashed the headlines of today’s New York Times and NPR about the importance of screening adults for depression.  It’s the acknowledgment–finally–that new and pregnant moms need screening because catching and treating PPD early is crucial to the wellbeing of both the mother and the baby, and to the family unit as a whole.  I’ve blogged in the past about how screening and seeing someone experienced in treating PPD could have prevented my painful experience.  Having the screening recommendation come from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is particularly meaningful, as its recommendations have far-reaching impact on things like healthcare (i.e., American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians) and health insurance in this country.  In fact, its recommendations appear in the current issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association).

This is a major milestone for maternal mental health advocates in this country.  And it’s about freaking time!  I attribute this milestone to the persistence, hard work, dedication and passion of many, many amazing people either independently acting or as part of organizations formed–too many to list here but foremost on the list is Postpartum Support International (of which I’ve been a member since 2006)–to spread awareness about an all too common condition suffered by mothers that even today people are not aware occurs in 1 out of 7 moms.  Seeing my friends’ names in these articles–Heidi Koss, a survivor/advocate/counselor and Wendy Davis, Executive Director of Postpartum Support International–mentioned makes them all the more meaningful to me.  They are passionate about what they do because they don’t want mothers and their families suffering unnecessarily.

You would think something like screening, which I’ve blogged about numerously in the past, would be mandated by all healthcare professionals who come in contact with expectant/new moms.  In one of my very first blog posts from back in June 2009, I included my suggestions for what screening would entail. Unfortunately, screening has not been embraced because, after all, where there is a positive, there is always a negative.  In this case, there are several negatives, with the biggest being none other than STIGMA, one of the 2 biggest barriers to progress for the battle against PPD.

Stigma–and the ignorance associated with it– comes from resistance to change and attitudes about what screening would mean (“Oh, once a mom is screened positively for PPD, then she will automatically be medicated”).  That, by the way, is totally false.  No one is deliberately trying to medicate every mother and give more business to the pharmaceutical companies.  Again, I have blogged plenty about this in the past, but medication is just one way to treat a perinatal mood disorder and in many cases critical to helping restore the neurochemical imbalance that childbirth has brought about.  Without medication, I might not have survived my PPD.  In most cases, it’s a combination of medication and therapy (like CBT) that is most effective.  In some, less serious cases of PPD, therapy or peer-to-peer support (with a PPD support group led by a survivor) and/or an alternative treatment like meditation or acupuncture is sufficient.

Speaking of which, there is another major barrier, which is what happens once an expectant or new mom screens positively for a perinatal mood disorder….can we find them immediate help?  Although there are more resources now than there were back when I suffered from PPD, we still have a very long way to go.  There is definitely a need for more help among the healthcare, mental healthcare, and peer-to-peer support communities who are experienced in treating perinatal mood disorders.  You’ll all too often hear that there is a long wait to see a psychiatrist (an MD who has the ability to prescribe meds), once you’ve found one that is near you that has experience treating perinatal mood disorders.  Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough mental healthcare practitioners who are experienced in treating perinatal mood disorders.  There aren’t enough mental healthcare practitioners, period.  And among general practitioners, not enough are experienced enough or even have adequate bedside manner to know how to treat/behave toward a mother struggling with a perinatal mood disorder.  I know, because I had seen one of those doctors, and it was a horrible, horrible experience for me.

These are the problems that we need to overcome if we want to truly be able to prevent any more mothers from falling through the cracks.  There are many steps to get where we need to be, but we have attained an important step in the right direction with the recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force!

Being Thankful for Freedom

I’ve never been able to come up with daily thanks for #30daysofthanks, but I do have a lot to be thankful for.  I don’t have a lot of time to write tonight because I have to go back to work after I put my daughter to bed.  Speaking of work, I am thankful for the job that I have, even though I have had to work ever night and every Saturday/Sunday for the past couple of weeks to wrap up a project by month end.   Work has been grueling since I started my new job in March, but I have learned a lot.  In general, it has been a great experience thus far.  I am exhausted.  But I am thankful.

First and foremost, I am thankful for FREEDOM.  Freedom that I would not have if it weren’t for so many of member of the US military sacrificing their lives, time that they would have spent with loved ones if they weren’t fighting for our FREEDOM.  In all too many cases these men and women may survive the wars they fight, but they come back home to find out they’ve lost everything they had–their homes, their families.  They even lost their mental health.  For the sake of our FREEDOM.   Well, you Senators out there claiming to have our people’s wellbeing at the heart of your legislation, you should show them you are thankful not just with lip service, but through actions.  Actions speak louder than words, right?  Well, then, develop mental health programs and make sure every veteran suffering from mental health issues gets the help he/she needs.  NOW!

In tonight’s episode of The Voice, Pharrell performed his song FREEDOM.  It was a performance that had a particularly special meaning, given what has been happening recently in Paris, in Mali, in Beirut, etc.  We in this country need to stop fighting among ourselves and realize what’s truly at stake here.  Our FREEDOM can be jeopardized if we don’t fight the real enemies TOGETHER.

Without freedom, I wouldn’t even be able to appreciate my and my family’s health.

Without freedom, I wouldn’t even be free to appreciate GORGEOUS SUNSETS like the one that many New Jerseyans were graced with last night.  I was standing in a local Michael’s and happened to look out the glass doors while standing on line to pay, when I saw the most gorgeous sky I have ever seen.  It was so gorgeous that everyone leaving the store was in awe and stopped to take pictures with their cell phones.  Sunset pictures from all over New Jersey appeared all over Twitter.

These are the shots I took with my cell phone.

ISL_sunset3_11_22_15

Photo: Ivy Shih Leung 11/22/15

Without FREEDOM, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate having the job that I have, working to help support my family, the ability to come home from a long day at work to watch my favorite program The Voice, and afterwards, blog about what I’m thankful about.

ISL_sunset_11_22_15

Photo: Ivy Shih Leung 11/22/15

 

I, for one, try to never take my FREEDOM and everything that matters to me for granted.  My family, my friends, my home, food, clothing, my job, being able to travel and see different cities, landmarks and scenery, taking in gorgeous sunset skies or rainbow skies or star-filled skies, music, dance, entertainment, and so on.

Be thankful that we are blessed to have the FREEDOM we have.

Honored to be Recognized as a Top Mental Health Blogger by Australia Counselling

With so many bloggers who write about and share their personal experiences with mental health issues to try to help others cope and who try to combat stigma by sharing information to increase awareness, I was stunned and thrilled to find out–by way of a tweet from Australia Counselling last week– that my blog was selected as one of the top 34 bloggers from around the world who advocate for mental health and wellness!  Knowing that my blog is recognized on the other side of the world — or as I fondly refer to as Down Under (as I have desired to live there ever since I first fell in love with the country in 1997…and I have been back there twice since, most recently this time last year and I think I even passed by the Australia Counselling location on Macquarie Street in Sydney then!) — means more to me than words can describe.

I have been blogging since February 2009 and though my posts are less frequent these days, I am determined to keep this blog going for an indefinite period of time because my mission is to try to make a positive difference and try to help others in a way that I would’ve liked to have received myself (but didn’t) during my scary battle with postpartum depression in 2005.  Since my own personal experience was 10 years ago, my story has since been shared numerous times via numerous venues.  But I will continue to make it a mission to get my thoughts out there via social media when I see ignorance rear its ugly head by way of untrue statements and preventable tragedies.

I also want to help motivate others to share their own experiences and chip away at stigma and show the world that depression and other mental health issues are serious issues that need treatment just like any other physical illness needs treatment.  Illnesses of the mind are not made up.  People should not avert their eyes in the face of mental illness.  People should not turn away from those who need help, like the instance in Edinburgh I blogged about last night.  We need more voices to stop being afraid to speak up.  We can succeed at de-stigmatizing mental illness….one survivor, one blogger, one social worker, one therapist at a time.  Since social media is such a powerful tool to help carry messages far and wide with just a few clicks, it is critical that we get even more people blogging about their personal experiences and spreading awareness and knowledge as possible.  Please click here to check out the other blogs on this top 34 list.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Australia Counselling, for the honor of being among one of your top 34 mental health bloggers.  I am most humbled and honored to receive such a wonderful recognition!

What Food Sensitivities Might Mean in the Grand Scheme of Things

This morning, I saw a post in my Facebook feed about yesterday’s article by Rachel Rabkin Peachman in Motherlode (NY Times) titled “Picky Eating in Children Linked to Anxiety, Depression and A.D.H.D.”  This was not the only article that was motivated by yesterday’s Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics article titled “Psychological and Psychosocial Impairment in Preschoolers With Selective Eating” in which Nancy Zucker, Ph.D., eating disorders specialist, and associate professor, psychology and neuroscience, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C. shares her findings.  There was also a Medline Plus article yesterday titled “Severe ‘Picky Eating’ May Point to Mental health Issues in Kids” and Wall Street Journal article by Sumanthi Reddy titled “What Picky Eating Might Mean for Children Later.” I know this isn’t about postpartum depression (PPD), but as I’ve said before, PPD has its roots earlier in life, which is why I choose to blog about and spread awareness about those roots.  I also want to tackle feelings of guilt and shame felt by mothers over things like picky eaters and food sensitivities. For example, a kid may have food sensitivities that are biological in nature, so there is absolutely zero reason for a mother to feel guilt/shame over the situation.  Sure, you should do what you can to introduce new foods slowly over time (remember, do all things in moderation and you can’t go wrong), but forcing a child to eat something when he is hell bent against it will not help matters one bit.  The approach of “If a child refuses to eat, don’t give him anything to eat and send him to his room; he’ll eat whatever you give him if he is hungry enough” is not the way to go at all, IMO. Dr. Zucker has also indicated that having kids eat processed foods (like chicken nuggets….either the frozen variety or the McDonald’s variety) should not alarm or cause parents to feel guilt/shame, since consistency in texture and taste is important to a child who might be tentative/uncertain overall and especially when it comes to eating.  Some experience sensory overload and become overwhelmed easily when it comes to taking in everything via their senses of smell, vision, hearing….and taste.   These kids have difficulty processing all the stimuli around them and go on sensory overload.  Chicken nuggets aren’t like broccoli.  They’re not bitter little tree lookalikes with little “leaves” and mushy in some cases, hard to chew in other cases, depending on how they are cooked or how fresh they are. In the Medline article, Dr. Zucker states:

They have a stronger sensitivity to the world outside and to how their body feels. That sets them up to have more vivid experiences — more intense food experiences, more intense emotional experiences. None of that is pathological, but it could be a vulnerability for later problems.

You may want to ask yourself whether you are a picky eater (and if so, whether you are also hypersensitive to smell, noise, visual cues and oral textures).  Here are the results of my self examination:

  • Picky eater?  check (for my daughter, not sure if I was once a picky eater, but I don’t believe I am that picky.  I won’t eat everything, and I think that’s absolutely normal)
  • Hypersensitive to smell? check for me (I can smell things that have caused people to liken me to a canine)
  • Hypersensitive to noise? check (I can hear things that have caused people to liken me to a canine; high-pitched grinding of subways to a halt, subtle background noises at work that all my co-workers don’t hear/tune out yet are highly distracting and irritating to me)
  • Hypersensitive to visual cues? check (for my daughter; whereas, I have extremely myopic vision, so I can’t say this applies to me; my sense of smell and hearing more than make up my lack of vision)
  • Hypersensitive to oral textures? check (for my daughter; I’m not sure if I was like this as a kid)

While a distaste for broccoli is not indicative of an issue since it’s fairly common for kids to refuse to eat it (it’s like beer and some other drinks and foods that take a few tries before you acquire a taste for it), when food aversions and smells becomes too overwhelming for a child as to prevent him from being able to tolerate eating out altogether, that’s when you know you have a case of extreme sensitivity for which parents should seek professional help (as the study has found a greater likelihood of depression or social anxiety later in life).  When a child has a limited number of foods he/she likes and can tolerate being exposed to other foods without any issues, that’s when there is a moderate sensitivity to food.  Moderately picky eaters usually broaden their palate over time, much like my daughter is doing slowly but surely, much to my relief!  Some children have a limited diet due to physical reasons such as acid reflux, which is not easy to figure out when a baby experiences this (from drinking milk and then after an intro to solid foods).  It’s not like the baby can tell you that she has acid reflux or feels sick drinking or eating certain things.  Hence, the trial and error and much anxiety and concern that ensue….not fun in the least! From the Motherlode article:

[Picky] eaters are not simply stubborn or tyrannical children whose parents have given in to their culinary whims. Rather, the research reveals that picky eaters have a heightened sensitivity to the world that is innate. “Their sensory experience is more intense in the areas of taste, texture and visual cues. And their internal experience may be more intense, so they have stronger feelings,” said Dr. Zucker, who is also director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorders. “They’re sensitive kids who may be anxious or a little depressed; so cutting up fruits into funny shapes is not going to do the trick for these kids.”

Also:

“It is a reminder that food is not a stand-alone issue and that it plays a role in the big picture of development,” said Dr. Laura Jana, pediatrician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and co-author of “Food Fights: Winning the nutritional challenges of parenthood armed with insight, humor, and a bottle of ketchup.” “How kids behave around food relates to how they interact with the world in general. It doesn’t surprise me that some kids who are really tentative around food might be really tentative in life.”

I am so glad the research was performed and results shared across major news outlets like the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. and subsequently shared all over social media.  The information is very critical and can make a hugely beneficial impact to parents struggling with their kids’ tastes for food know when to get help versus when to chalk up as something kids will grow out of as their palates broaden and become “more sophisticated.”  Per the Motherlode article, approximately 20% of children are picky eaters, so you can see it’s a fairly common challenge faced by parents.  And per Dr. Zucker, there is a correlation between picky eating and mental health challenges down the road, like depression and/or anxiety.

The #1 Killer of Teen Girls Worldwide

I was motivated to write this blog post tonight due to a Telegraph article that appeared in my Facebook feed today written by Nisha Lilia Diu and titled: “Suicide is now the biggest killer of teenage girls worldwide. Here’s why.”

That headline shocked me.  And it is shocking a lot of people, even those firmly entrenched in the fields of global women’s rights.  This headline should shock everyone.  It should shock people into trying to do something to turn those statistics around.

Yes, suicide is now the #1 killer of girls/young women between the ages of 15 and 19.  Suicide has overtaken maternal mortality as the #1 killer of young women in the world….a statistic buried–yes, buried–in the latest World Health Organisation report.  This information does not deserve to be buried.  It needs to be written about, talked about and acted upon!  I am glad Nisha wrote this Telegraph article!  In the article, you’ll see the alarming numbers of suicides in girls ages 15-19 in the different regions of the world.

Teen girls ages 15-19 face, regardless of location:

  • hormone changes
  • emotional changes (e.g., increase in vulnerability and decline in self confidence)
  • behavior changes (e.g., attracting mate, sex drive, competition)
  • identity issues (e.g., acceptance among peers, desire to fit in, peer pressure)

Add to that the following disadvantages society places on women, including:

  • societal expectations
  • disempowerment
  • marginalization

Add to that the use of social media throughout much of the world.  I’ve blogged in the past about it, but I will sum up the basics of the detrimental impact social media can have on emotionally vulnerable teen girls.  The malicious words of a complete stranger, aka troll, that confirm an emotionally vulnerable teenager’s feelings (i.e., self hate, thoughts of suicide) by saying things like “Yeah, you’re ugly alright. Why don’t you just go kill yourself.”  These are the trolls I wish more than anything in the world–with the exception of the complete eradication of mental health stigma, terrorism, misogny and people killing each other–can be located and zapped from existence.  Like in a video game.  These haters are a danger to others and need to be stopped.

I need to mention the tragic story of 12 year old Izzy, which I learned about from this blog post last week.  While we do not know what exactly led to her being publicly shamed online by her father after he hacked her hair, and it is unlikely that the video alone led to her jumping out of a car and off a bridge to her death, what I do know is that ANY teen acting out (e.g., doing drugs, rebellious behavior, locking themselves in their rooms) needs help, NOT punishment or public shaming.  FULL STOP.

As in so many cases you will read about in the news of teens taking their own lives, there may have been no signs that they were distressed to the point that they felt they had to end their lives to escape the pain with which they are struggling.  Today, I came across this touching obituary written by the parents of Clay Shephard in North Carolina, whose son was smiling despite what was driving his drug addictions. There was no indication whatsoever that he was going to take his own life.  Included in the obituary were these words that sound very much like my post about a fellow alum’s son’s sudden tragic passing a few months ago:

To all parents, pay attention to your children and the world that revolves around them – even when the surface is calm, the water may be turbulent just beneath.

You may wonder how all this has anything to do with postpartum depression (PPD).  It’s important to remember that many cases of depression surface during the teenage years and follow you throughout life.  One of the primary risk factors of PPD is a history of depression. I delve into relevant statistics and risk factors in my book. And you may be interested in checking out my prior posts relating to teenage years.

It’s with knowledge that there is any hope of REDUCING STIGMA AND REDUCING DEPRESSION!

This Loss Could Be Any Parent’s Loss

I just posted the next paragraph on my Facebook timeline, but I wanted the post to reach more people, as this loss could have been any other parent’s loss.  Although it has nothing to do with postpartum depression (PPD), remember that I do occasionally post about teenage matters, including teen angst, self confidence and depression arising from a combination of environmental and biological factors.  How good or bad a teen’s experiences are, how well they are able to communicate about/share what they are thinking/feeling (with anyone, not just with our parents), and how well they are educated PRIOR TO adolescence on what to expect concerning our physical AND emotional changes that come with adolescence….these are all KEY in helping teens get through any challenges they face.  Here is where I want to quote an excerpt from my book: “Knowledge is power. That is one of my most favorite sayings, simply because it makes so much sense. Knowledge, which has a tremendous normalizing effect, is key in keeping fear at bay, since fear typically rules in the presence of the unknown.”

A fellow alum’s 8th grader, Cayman Naib, from the Philly area had gone missing last Wed night. I do not know his mother, but I have been having a very hard time processing this young boy’s sudden taking of his own life.  [And so here I am, blogging to let my feelings out]. It is so important to be alert and sensitive to our kids’ emotions, especially as they grow older and enter their teens. We’re all adults, we’ve been there. But I believe today is much different than when any of us grew up. It seems there is more pressure than ever before academically, athletically, socially, etc. Being a teen is a time that is filled with much turmoil that we may or may not even realize what our kids are actually thinking, as they may not understand their feelings and feel unable to share them with us. Impulse and emotional roller coasters reign. Such difficulty in controlling emotional impulses (with depression possibly mixed in) can cause a young individual who doesn’t know any better to feel like it won’t get better and they just want to end their pain the quickest way possible. So, please, talk to your children and make sure they understand what emotional changes may accompany physical ones once adolescence comes.

Like so many that have been following this story, I was praying for a different outcome.  My heart breaks not just because this is a loss suffered by a fellow alum.  My heart breaks knowing that this is a tragedy that would easily have happened to any parent with a young teen.  My heart breaks remembering how many times I myself had contemplated running away from my problems as a teenager because I didn’t know how to cope with them, I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to that would understand what I was going through, and I felt like I just wanted to end it all (but thankfully never did).  Tragedies like this make me want to dedicate the rest of my life to preventing other kids from wanting to (and succeeding at) taking their own lives.

If you are a teenager and reading this, please know that:

YOU MATTER
YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS
YOUR LIFE IS FILLED WITH SO MUCH PROMISE
I DIDN’T FEEL THAT WAY AS A TEEN
BUT I’M TELLING YOU NOW THAT LIFE IS WORTH LIVING
PLEASE STAY STRONG

Happy 1st Birthday, STIGMAMA!

I am proud of my friend, Dr. Walker Karraa, for so many reasons.  Today, I would like to acknowledge and congratulate her for the success of her amazing blog, STIGMAMATM. Happy 1st birthday, STIGMAMATM!!!

You have grown soooo quickly! In what feels like less than a year to me–because last year went by so fast–you have had over 70 contributors, garnered over 16,000 followers on Facebook, and been recognized as a leading health blog, and the list goes on. You are the fastest growing blog specifically about mothers (of all ages), mental illness, and accompanying stigma.

I have not had a chance to contribute to you as of yet because I spent half of last year studying for two exams. But I am definitely going to join the ranks of the over 70 contributors that have written for you to date.

If you haven’t followed Dr. Walker and STIGMAMATM by now, please do. They are on a mission to help eradicate stigma. Let’s join them on that mission!

If you are a blogger, please join the blog hop to wish StigmamaTM a very happy 1st birthday, and many, many, many more! Create your blog post, click on the button below, and add your information to the blog hook-up page that comes up via InLinkz.  Not a blogger?  That’s okay.  There are many other ways you can help celebrate. You can spread the word about StigmamaTM to your friends.  On Twitter, you can chat with Dr. Karraa and her contributors and other followers by using @Stigmama1 or #StigmamaBirthday. On Facebook, you can leave Dr. Karraa and her contributors a message(s) on the Stigmama Facebook page.

All It Takes Is One Day

A few months ago I had somewhat of a falling out with a friend due to a meme that he posted on Facebook.  If it were just the meme, that would be one thing.  But it was my comment and his ensuing attacks on my comment that were biting (WHY????) and completely lacking in empathy that completely turned me off.  The meme had a “Just snap out of it” tone.  It implied that depression should not be used as a cop out or excuse to not succeed.  I can’t post that meme here to help illustrate why it elicited my perturbed and upset reaction, because I don’t recall what exactly the meme said and I wasn’t about to look through months of feeds of this person’s just to find it.  If it were just the one meme, then I might have just passed up on it.  But it’s a number of things that led up to it.  You see, there was history to this.

Have you ever had FB “friends” post things that pop up on your FB feed that grate on your nerves because they reflect just how disparate your ways of thinking really are?  Well, this person’s posts made me ponder how we could be friends if we had such different mindsets (e.g., extreme right versus moderate left, women’s reproductive rights, mental health).  After a while, I started noticing a trend from his occasional far-off-the-cliff remarks, which really made me think he was a troll (yes, that’s how bad it sometimes got).  His remarks showed just how unable he was to be empathic.   I have tried to explain on numerous occasions my viewpoint that is from a person who has experienced postpartum depression (PPD) to this person (just as I’ve had to explain to others with similar mindsets as this individual).  But it just was not sinking in.  There was no getting it.  It was like trying to get water out of a rock.  At some point, you just have to call it quits.  And so I did.

The friendship is still there.  I just can’t handle the posts anymore.  So, that person is no longer in my Close Friends feed, which I’ve had to resort to, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts.  I’m sure others have been in the same position.  We all have to pick and choose our battles….prioritize in order to get by each day.  There are some FB “friends” who have filtered my posts out since a couple years ago.  A couple years ago, I was posting things way more frequently than I am now, and they were about a variety of things (e.g., PPD, bullying, politics, rape, women’s reproductive rights)….essentially, negative news (that is REALITY…what happens out there in the real world that people have a hard time acknowledging) that people go out of their way on a daily basis to avoid because that is their self preservation tactic.  Hey, I get it.  After all, that’s what I’m doing now with this one individual.  I don’t have all of my FB “friends” in my Close Friends feed because they either never, ever post anything on FB or they never, ever interact with me (so what’s the point, right?).  Again, priorities.

With this experience, I understand the road before us to educate people on and de-stigmatize depression and other mental health-related matters is EXTREMELY DAUNTING.  While there is a very large number of individuals that are active on social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc.), speakers who travel the world, and book authors who try to take on this daunting task each day, we still need to make sure we reach everyone–whether they are fighting a battle with depression or other mood disorder, or whether they are like my hard-headed friend who just fails to get it.  Everyone is NOT getting the message.   IGNORANCE AND STIGMA are to blame for that.  The biggest challenge by far in terms of reaching everyone is the fact that there will always be people who hear about experiences and continue to be unable to get it…..either willfully or because they want to but are unable to.   The former group will NEVER change their mindsets because they think they know it all; that everyone has the ability to SNAP OUT OF IT; that depression is a choice when in reality it is far from a choice.  The latter group is because they have no idea what it’s like to be depressed (like I was before I had PPD) and would like to understand but fail to be able to.  I have many friends who fall in this latter category.

Well, this is why if I had the ability to wish something to happen and make it happen, I wish that everyone would experience what it’s like to be depressed (not blue or sad, but truly depressed) one day.  ALL IT TAKES IS ONE DAY. It is only then that everyone will truly get it.

Celebrating My 6th Blogiversary

Well, ladies (and perhaps some gentlemen), I’ve managed to keep my blog going for SIX years.  If you’ve been following my blog since the beginning, you might’ve noticed the gradual transition of my blog’s focus, tone and frequency.

But through it all, my intent has remained the same….to make sure that those who need the kind of support and reassurance that I couldn’t find and didn’t have access to during my postpartum depression (PPD) experience ten years ago can find my blog and feel a little less alone in their postpartum experience.

For the moms who are going through PPD with insomnia as an initial/primary symptom and are bewildered, like I was, as to why in the world I would not be able to fall asleep when I was so exhausted and recovering from a traumatic childbirth experience, hospital stay and blood loss.

For the moms who develop panic attacks and are bewildered, not understanding what is going on with them because they have never experienced panic attacks before.

For the moms who got pregnant after many years of trying through IVF, thinking all would be blissful once the baby arrives but instead are blindsided by the sudden onset of PPD.

These are the moms who are finding my blog.  Moms who longed to hold their babies in their arms the way they had envisioned they would but could not enjoy their first weeks with the baby because of the darkness of PPD that enveloped them.

I know I am still helping some moms. I know from the comments they leave. I know from the occasions a mom reaches out and asks me to email, text and/or call her.

I want you to be well and to get the right help as quickly as possible so you can.

For those who have been following my blog these past six years, thank you.

I hope to continue to come up with blog posts that people find in searches and that help make a difference in a mother’s (or father’s) life.

I have a few author interviews and other posts coming up.  Please stay tuned.

Writing is Good for You

My first blog post of the year is motivated by an article that appeared in my Facebook feed yesterday titled Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write, by Rachel Grate.  I have been fortunate enough to experience the benefits of writing, so I just wanted to emphasize the importance of writing as a means of therapy and for greater mental and physical well-being.

Growing up, I hated to write papers. It was probably because I hated the books assigned to us for reading and having to write papers for every single one of them—all in short order and on a non-stop basis. Reading these books and writing papers on them had no meaning for me. Sorry to offend the book lovers out there, but just being candid here about how I felt about my school assignments. Back then, I didn’t believe there was any benefit from doing all this.  Especially since I sucked at writing papers. I lacked the patience to read books back then, and I still lack patience today.  I started writing/journaling my thoughts pretty much for the first time, ever, after my daughter was born. And let me tell you….if it weren’t for writing my book and blogging, I would NOT be where I am today—a much healthier and happier person overall!

Well, regardless of whether you write like a JK Rowling or some other well-known novelist, writing can provide both psychological and physical health benefits. Studies, some of which are mentioned in Ms. Tate’s article, have shown that expressive writing can improve mood, reduce stress, reduce the occurrence of illnesses, lower blood pressure, and even promote recovery from illnesses or the healing of physical wounds faster. When there is an improvement of mood and reduction in stress, it makes sense that one is usually able to sleep better.

One study found that blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to the effect from running or listening to music.

I do realize the ability to sleep better with less stress is a general statement and that there are, in fact, exceptions.  Depression is one example in which medication may be needed to combat insomnia. I’ve been there. I know.  And it’s NO mind over matter thing.  It’s neurochemical.

Expressive writing is when you write about something that is causing stress in your life….from difficulties at work, at home, in your marriage, as a new mom or as a teen having friendship or bullying trouble in school……to emotional traumas such as a current and/or past abusive situation, coping with a mental health disorder, etc. Writing my book and most of my blog posts that were motivated by anger involved extracting all my thoughts from my head and putting them down on paper. This process–what I refer to as regurgitation, rumination, digestion and then transformation of thoughts into words that appear online in my blog or on paper in my book—enabled me to fully process my emotions. To this day, I continue to find great relief in getting my thoughts out on Facebook and/or my blog (depends on what is causing me grief) whenever I am annoyed or upset about something that happened 1) during my commute to/from work, 2) at work, 3) in the news, or 4) online. I have said this previously that every time I get my words out, I feel lighter….like a heavy weight is being lifted off my back.

Instead of obsessing unhealthily over an event, [one] can focus on moving forward. By doing so, stress levels go down and health correspondingly goes up.

As I stated in my interview with Dr. Walker Karraa over two years ago, the process of writing my book helped transform me into a different person…a much healthier person both mentally and physically. I experienced a metaphorsis, thanks in huge part, to writing.

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not, but ever since 2-3 years ago, which is right around the time I published my book that took me since 2005 to write, I have experienced fewer illnesses. I used to get sick many times throughout the year, without fail, especially in the winter where I would fall victim to frequent colds, the flu, and chronic bronchitis (since I am very superstitious, I am going to knock on wood now as I say all this). Are we supposed to experience fewer illnesses as we get older? Maybe so, but for me it makes an awful lot of sense that there is a direct correlation between levels of happiness and your state of health.  Especially when the scientists and their research show a correlation between happiness and stronger immune systems (and levels of inflammation).

So, if you are reading this post and don’t typically write, then you may want to consider picking up the pen (or putting fingers to keyboard) and writing more starting this year.  You won’t regret it!

Thoughts of Suicide and the Taboo of Discussing It

I think the title of my post speaks for itself, but just in case, I will add a trigger warning…

*** This post may be triggering if you are are emotionally vulnerable right now***

Below is an excerpt from a recent Facebook post over at the Angel Rehtaeh Facebook page I’ve been following since Rehtaeh Parsons of Novia Scotia died by suicide on April 7, 2013.  The cause of her attempted suicide has been blamed on the online distribution of photos of an alleged gang rape committed by four boys in November 2011, and subsequent persistent cyberbullying and bullying that took place that drove her to try to end her life.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I am just as concerned about girls’ mental health as I am about maternal mental health because there is risk of postpartum mood disorders occurring when there is a history of depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental health issue.  And as many of my blog followers already know, since I was a victim of bullying while growing up, I am just about as passionate an advocate for anti-bullying as I am an advocate for maternal mental health.  And mental health/depression and suicide as topics for discussion?  Still very taboo in our society today.  Yes, they are still very hush hush and make for awkward topics to talk about.  But not awkward enough for my lunch group today, which I had the pleasure of organizing as a mini reunion of four fellow Postpartum Support International (PSI) members from as far away as Arizona in addition to Long Island and of course, New Jersey.  Yes, we talked about suicide, among a number of other maternal-mental-health-related matters….not to mention our books (3 out of the 4 PSI members are book authors).

Not speaking up about suicide is just like not speaking up about mental health….it doesn’t do anyone any good.  It just keeps it a completely taboo topic.  It makes people who experience it feel ashamed and alone, when in fact they are far from alone.   People with suicidal thoughts may feel like no one cares and no one will ever understand what they are going through.  That’s simply not true.  There are always people who care.  The key is whether you spoke to the right person about what you’re going through.  When I say right person, I mean a loved one whom you trust and can help connect you with someone who is trained to help those who are in a dark place say that there truly is a light at the end of the tunnel.

The following excerpt is being quoted with permission from Rehtaeh’s mother, Leah Parsons:

The sad part about thoughts of suicide and the taboo of discussing it is that so many people especially teenagers go through times where they have these thoughts. Instead of acknowledging that these thoughts are more common than we know…we make people feel like there is something “wrong” with them. That somehow they are “weak” and can not handle life’s pressures. Schools need more talk of mental health- not less. Not talking about mental health does not equal less suicides. Actually, talking with supports in place is the answer to helping peoples – especially teens deal with their emotional struggles.  So what would I say to someone who is wanting to leave this beautiful world?
I would say:

1. You are not alone.
2. This too shall pass….what seems like the darkest of days can lead you to the brightest light.
3. When we come out of darkness we have a better lense in which to view the world.
4. Find the smallest of things to look forward to everyday. It can be the feeling of crawling under your comfy blankets at night. Embrace comfort!
5. Ask for guidance to something bigger than yourself…even if you don’t believe in God, ask the Universe..you will get an answer but you have to be present. Listen,be present for that opportunity!
6. Look around you for beauty….it’s there and inside of you too.
7. Find one person you trust…find “YOUR” therapy whatever that may be…explore that.
8. Look around you at the people who love you…you matter to them even if it feels like your a burden…thats not true that is something you are feeding yourself to confirm your negative feelings. Its a trick your mind plays with you when you are down.
9. Life is hard and again YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
10. What seems like desperation and sadness today is not permanent….it will not always be that way.
11. Don’t compare your journey to another.
12. Someone else may seem strong and have everything going for them, but they too will struggle or are struggling.
13. You are loved…find the love in you and feed yourself the way you would a friend that is down.
14. Listen to your thoughts, is that how you would talk to a friend? Be that friend to yourself!
15. Please Stay there will never be another YOU!

I would like to end this post with a reminder to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline if you are feeling like you are at the end of your rope, there is no hope, there is no way out of the situation that is making you feel so bad, and/or your loved ones would be better of without you.  Contrary to what you may believe, your loved ones will NOT be better without you.

A Must Read: Emily Bazelon’s “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy”

Well, I am at a point in which I’ve got so many ideas, but not enough time to post anything.  Until, that is, I spotted in my Facebook news feed this morning the New York Times article by John Schwartz titled “Words That Hurt and Kill: Lessons for Society From Bullying and Its Psychic Toll” about Emily Bazelon’s book titled “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy.”

As the title of this book suggests, the author touches on bullying–a far-from-new-phenomenon–and the importance of empathy,  defeating the culture of bullying by acknowledging its complexity, and encouraging bystanders to be upstanders (those who stand up for victims).  Laws alone will NOT prevent bullying from occurring.  I hear all the time the lament that “Well, I don’t understand why everyone is making a big deal out of bullying.  Bullying has been around forever.  I grew up with bullying.  My parents grew up with bullying.  Back then, we just dealt with it.  Nowadays, kids don’t seem to want or know how to deal with it.  Instead, they’re copping out by killing themselves.”

Well, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, don’t forget that we are now in the age of social media.  Back when I was a kid, there was NO social media.   Heck, there weren’t even cell phones.  With text messaging, Youtube videos, Facebook, Twitter, and a whole host of sites you don’t even want to know about but are popular among teens, the impact of bullying can be extremely devastating to a young person who hasn’t mastered coping, self care and real-world survival skills, may be lacking in self esteem,  and may not get much in the way of support and encouragement from family members and friends.  The bar has been raised in terms of the extent of cruelty that individuals are capable of carrying out because these are no longer face to face confrontations.  Take, for example, trolls.  We have all witnessed at least one troll in action in our interactions online.  Usually, it’s in the form of a nonsensical and completely outrageous and completely off-tangent remark that is filled with hate.  You wouldn’t normally see these comments spoken to someone in person, right?    Yes, it’s so much easier to be cruel online than it is in person.

In terms of the in-person bullying, the isolation tactics and backstabbing of cliquey girls, the racist remarks, the physical intimidation tactics, the verbal intimidation tactics….these still occur in school.  If schools and home life are anything like what I experienced back when I was a teenager–i.e., lack of school counselor support and awareness on the part of school staff, lack of support at home, lack of upstanders, lack of empathy–these behaviors (with or without the social media) can result in a very detrimental experience for the bullied child.  I believe depression rates are higher now than they’ve ever been before.  Maybe because more people are speaking up about their experiences and with the aid of social media, news and information on bullying incidents are much more accessible to everyone than ever before, there is the perception that depression rates are higher.  At the same time, access to mental healthcare services in this country is still so sadly lacking.  And then you have the extreme situations, like Columbine and Virginia Tech, in which the bullied exact their revenge.  I don’t remember incidents like those growing up.  Nope, I don’t.

Ms. Bazelon touches on some points that I have previously touched upon:

  • Some individuals are more resilient (via a combination of genetics and environmental factors) and will tend to come out of bullying and cyberbullying incidents much less scathed than those who are more susceptible to depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.  It would be nice if we can figure out just which students fall into each bucket to increase the likelihood of preventing situations from developing and/or getting out of hand.
  • It was only in the past decade that states put the first anti-bullying laws in place, in the aftermath of Columbine, Phoebe Prince’s bullycide (MA), Tyler Clementi’s bullycide (NJ).
  • There seems to be a tendency to label non-bullying behaviors as bullying.  In other words, people are using the word “bullying” so much that this overuse is diluting true acts of bullying.  We need to stop overusing the word because it is not helping matters.

Ms. Bazelon is clearly objective in her presentation of situations she writes about in her book, even as far as showing what I refer to as a neutral take for the sake of presenting the science behind teenage behavior (i.e., the part of the brain that manages impulsiveness and judgment, referred to as the frontal lobe, is not fully developed as of yet) and why the punishment of teenagers is meted out in juvenile rather than adult terms.  Though that is far from an excuse for certain atrocious behaviors that bullying can all too often entail (and believe me, when I read about some of these bullying cases, I wish for every last person that has anything to do with a child’s bullycide to be punished to the FULLEST extent of the law), as they become adults and as long as they are provided counseling (instead of jail time), bullies can see the error of their ways and shed their bullying selves completely.  Some bullies have even gone as far as becoming anti-bullying activists with a mission to speak to schools around the country.

This book needs to be read by not just middle and high school staff, but by all parents.  I fervently believe as many people as possible should read it so there is a widespread understand of the culture of bullying, how to prevent it, how to support the victims, and how to inspire bystanders to become upstanders.

The article leave us with this nugget to chew on as we look at the road before us.  A road in which we need minds to come together to figure out how we need to handle bullying, given all the complexities Ms. Bazelon mentions in her book:

“Ultimately, Ms. Bazelon wisely warns us, we still have to try to let kids be kids.  [Otherwise] ‘We risk raising kids who don’t know how to solve problems on their own, withstand adversity or bounce back from the harsh trials life inevitably brings.’ And so, she says with a sigh: ‘It’s a tricky balance to strike, the line between protecting kids and policing them. But we have to keep trying to find it.’”

Please click here and here to previous blog posts for more links on previous posts relating to teen angst, depression, and bullying…and why I write about it so much on this postpartum depression blog.