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 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.