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:

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.

Hey Doc, Ask Me Why

Happy New Year!  It’s been 17 days since my last post.  Christmas is my favorite holiday, but with Christmas comes a lot of preparation (e.g., shopping, decorating, having people over).  So much goes into preparation for a holiday that lasts as long as any other day.  And *poof* it’s over.  And then the new year comes around.  And I am NOT crazy about celebrating new years.  Nope, not at all.  It’s just another reminder that time is flying by at warp speed.  Speaking of warp speed, here’s a picture that popped up in my Facebook news feed from George Takei of Star Trek fame on New Year’s Day.  It says it all for me.

Well, anyway, I’ve been waiting for that one blog post / news article to inspire me to blog….and I finally found one today.  Today, my inspiration came up on my Facebook newsfeed from two individuals dedicated to the fight against bullying:  Jessica from My Kindness Counts and Mike Urry from His Name Was Steven.

Watch this (*** This video may be triggering if you are suffering from depression***):

The video shows several teens urging on doctors to ask “Why” a young individual is complaining of not being able to sleep and/or having chronic stomach aches and/or headaches and/or experiencing weight loss.  It’s because, as the video states,  “Sometimes what’s bothering your patients isn’t visible to the naked eye.”  Bullying is the cause of all too many missed days of school for kids/teens, both out of fear of being bullied and due to the oftentimes debilitating physical symptoms caused by anxiety and depression.  Doctors shouldn’t merely whip out their script pad and start scribbling out prescriptions for antidepressants and/or medications to relieve physical symptoms, like stomach aches and headaches.  They should ask “Why.  Why are you not able to sleep, have stomach aches and/or have headaches?  What’s going on?  How’s school?  If you feel the need to talk to someone about what is going on, I can recommend someone.  Sometimes, all it takes is for someone who understands what you are going through to help you see that you are not alone and you will get through this.”

All doctors who have young patients need to know the correlation of certain symptoms during certain times in a young person’s life might be tied to teenage angst/depression.  Here’s an excerpt in my book that speaks to all this:

[Depression] is misunderstood not just by the public at large, but by medical professionals as well, and largely because there is no singular cause. Though the word depression implies a mental condition that impacts a person’s thoughts and feelings, its symptoms—caused by a combination of biological and psychosocial factors—are physical, affecting the way a person eats, sleeps, and functions……..Before I experienced PPD, I…..thought feeling sad was the same thing as being depressed. But now I know better. I know that depression not only causes an individual to feel low and hopeless, it can also change sleep and eating patterns and cause a whole host of other physiological symptoms. I seriously think the difference should be taught in school at a young age so kids don’t grow into adults still confusing the two terms with each other. That would be one way to combat the stigma!

[Sleep] and appetite disturbances (including nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain) are physical symptoms of depression, while mood swings, sadness, and restlessness are emotional symptoms of depression.

Those who aren’t aware that these physical and emotional symptoms are due to depression and anxiety will, instead of seeking treatment for those mood disturbances, mistakenly think that the digestive system is to blame for the appetite disturbances, stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea. The diagnosis may turn out to be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that is usually caused by stress, with the goal of treating the irritable bowel, when the underlying cause, which is anxiety in this case, is not properly addressed.

And if you read the following excerpt from my book, you’ll see why this video got my attention so much.  It’s disturbing just how lacking in knowledge of mental health issues (or even teenage issues, in general) doctors were back when I was a teenager….and how it hasn’t changed much, apparently, three decades later.

With PPD, I suffered from lack of appetite and rapid weight loss. I never had that growing up. My teenage weight was always steady and under one hundred pounds. (Wow, those were the good ol’ days!) I was just prone to anxiety, which caused such physical symptoms as dry heaving, nausea, and stomachaches. You would think my doctor back then would have attributed those symptoms to anxiety, but it never came up. He never asked me questions to try to get to the bottom of it. Not much difference in the medical profession from the 1970s and now. What a shame! I can distinctly recall experiencing dry heaves each morning as I was getting ready for school, not having any appetite to eat breakfast but forcing it down anyway because my mother insisted I eat. Upset stomachs and a burning sensation in my gut were a regular occurrence…..ultimately my nervous stomach occurrences slowly but surely stopped after I graduated from high school. If you looked at my photos from my junior high and high school years, you’d see a shell of a person—all skinny, withdrawn, and unhappy looking.

So, are you hearing us, docs?  You go into the medical profession wanting to help others to stay healthy and to treat their health issues.  Well, I sincerely hope medical schools are ensuring that doctors-in-training recognize the symptoms of depression and treat their patients accordingly.  And for general practitioners who currently have young patients, I sincerely hope they are well aware of the issues that youths face and know when they should ask “Why.”

NOTE:  Please refer to my recent blog post 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 (PPD) blog.

October is National Bullying Awareness Month

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

Boy, am I ever late in writing this blog post, with only 2-1/2 days left to October!   Things have been ever soooo busy in my neck of the woods!   While there are so many articles out there about bullying from not just this one month but in general, I wanted to focus on a few things right here, right now.  It took me a couple weeks to process the Amanda Todd story and feel ready to post my thoughts in a blog post.

Here goes…

1.  The frequency of bullying is increasing.

2.  Parents and other adults are crucial in role modeling and raising the younger generation to be empathetic.

3.  Twitter and Facebook must find a way to help monitor activity for suicidal warnings.  There must be a way for these 2 extremely popular and key social media sites to partner with an organization like National Suicide Prevention to intervene when there is a clear risk for suicide in a tweet/post.  Either that, or it’s simply a matter of parents and/or other loved ones who also use these sites to “friend” their kids on Facebook  and open a Twitter account to “follow” them (plenty of people use pseudonyms).

4.  Parents need to be engaged and aware of their children’s activities, especially their online activities (including blocking inappropriate sites that are a breeding ground for disaster when it comes to their own children’s well-being and–should their children be the ones tormenting someone else’s children online–the well-being of other children).

5.  Bystanders–be it other students, people online (if this relates to cyber-bullying), and/or teachers–should speak up when they witness any bullying incidents.  If everyone maintains the attitude that it’s “Not my concern,” we will stay in this rut that we find ourselves in, with children feeling unnecessarily alone, desperate, and hopeless….and feeling like they have no other options to help them escape their torment and pain but to end their own lives.

The Amanda Todd case raises awareness of how relentless cyber-bullying can be and how vicious people (kids, teens, adults) can behave when it comes to someone whom they DON’T EVEN KNOW.  Her case is an example of how a misunderstood teenage girl felt so alone in her suffering, was unfortunate enough (and to this day I don’t even know how this got as far as it did….where were the parents in all this?) to have encountered what was likely a pedophile (the police are still investigating and I truly hope they find this scumbag) who stalked her–and whose actions of taking advantage of a young girl online–started her off on a road of torment, harassment, and constant school moves to try to escape the kids who made fun of her and even beat her up.

EVERY SINGLE PERSON who contributed to Amanda’s torment must be held accountable and receive punishment befitting their involvement.  Their actions led to the death of someone.  In my book, it’s equivalent to a gang of bullies physically beating someone to death with their bare hands.  And the countless hate pages that went up after she died?  Instead of letting her spirit rest in peace, they are hell bent on tormenting it even after death.  These people are so rotten, so malicious, and so vile.  The pure evil and hate that exists out there is horrific.  How these people can stand to behave like this and feel good about themselves is beyond me!  Let’s just say that if justice doesn’t prevail with the police knocking on their doors, then I pray that KARMA will!

Rant over….

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.

  1. Nature Versus Nurture in Relation to PPD
  2. PMS versus PMDD

And you may be interested in checking out my prior posts relating to teenage years, some of which do specifically address bullying as an epidemic in this society (scroll down to see my links to Anti-Bullying/Teen Resources on the right side of my blog, along with all my other links):

  1. Bullying and Suicide…Teen Angst and Depression
  2. The Mental Cost Behind a Nomadic Childhood Experience
  3. Depression and Teen Suicides…It Will Get Better
  4. You are Perfect to Me, Says the Parent to the Child
  5. Empathy Makes the World Go Round
  6. New Jersey Leads the Way Yet Again
  7. Disturbing Teenage Trend…Hey Stranger, Do You Think I’m Ugly or Pretty?
  8. 121Help.Me – A 24/7 Youth Helpline
  9. I Am Titanium
  10. Join the Anti-Bullying Movement

I’m going to end this post with the following food for thought:
All of us have the power to make a difference.  We just have to work together to effect positive change.  Please.  Let’s stop this horrible epidemic.  Now.

PMS + Recent News = One Unhappy Mama

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

 A few days ago, I felt the way I hadn’t felt in a long, long time.  Thanks to PMS (I still do get it even though I’m missing my uterus), I felt so down in the dumps emotionally that I almost feared I was going to relapse into depression, which I haven’t experienced since my dark days of PPD.  I’ve posted about PMS before (and how it should not be confused with PMDD, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder).

I was already “blue” from my ol’ buddy PMS, so the news from last week….the deplorable words uttered by Todd Akin (holy smokes, how anyone today can utter Middle Ages crap the way he did and supposedly be an educated person acting in Congressional capacity is beyond me)–so ignorant that ACOG had to issue a statement to point out how misinformed he was and dangerously so; the Latch on NYC campaign and other similar campaigns that will only succeed in making mothers feel more guilt-ridden than ever if they can’t for whatever reason breastfeed successfully; the GOP no-exceptions stance on abortion (i.e., even in cases of rape and incest); the increasing gender gap in the political race; bullying incidents; shootings; and so on.  No wonder the depression rates are so high.  We are living in a society of people who lack empathy.  Society is heading down a slippery slope because we are focusing less and less about each other and more and more about who is superior, wealthier, more powerful.  What about education of our future generations?  What about mental healthcare of our mothers suffering from perinatal mood disorders and returning troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and in need of help in transitioning back to their lives back home?  The list goes on….boy, are our priorities all screwed up!

I seriously need to unplug.  And yet I can’t.  So I can only blame myself if I continue to let news and subsequent emotions drag me down.  But at least I will know immediately if I get to the point of being depressed.  I’ve been there before.  It’s not a “mind over matter thing” as is the narrow-minded and ignorant conviction of depression naysayers–most if not all of whom have never been depressed before…..which brings to mind the narrow-minded, completely lacking in empathy, callous and narcissistic view of breastfeeding nazi’s who have the gall to come out and say things like “there’s absolutely no reason why a new mother can’t breastfeed; nope, none at all.”  Depression is a serious health issue that needs professional attention.

The common denominator of these examples is a holier-than-thou, completely narcissistic/egomanical attitude of the ones holding the power (or believing they hold the power because they are just that high on themselves).   The feeling that there is utter lack of control over all the events occurring around me made me look at my own personal situation and feel the same way–about work, my house, and the people in my life–and prompted me to say the following last Wednesday on Facebook:

Feeling pretty disillusioned by a lot of things lately. Work, neighbors, people you think that are your friends, what comes out of the mouths of people (govt level and general population) that are narrow-minded and sometimes even hateful. I’m tired, folks, really tired of it all……
[These] are all separate issues (one has nothing to do w/the other) that have been bugging me and making me question my relationships w/people…..
Sometimes I just want to up and move but I know we should stay put for [my daughter’s] sake. She needs the kind of stability I never had while growing up…..
It sucks to feel so “stuck” in a situation you want to desperately have more control over…..  
I’ve had moments of doubt but never this bad. I really feel like I’ve had it with everything.  I need a change. A new house and ‘hood ( same town) would be a great start. I also need to unplug for a while. We’ll see….
I’ve been letting the news get me down. Seems like there is more bad news than ever before. I need to unplug for just a couple of days….but find it nearly impossible. That’s affecting my attitude in general, so as a result, my feelings about work and everything else is getting dragged down.

Fortunately, after a night’s rest with SIX hours of sleep (I had gotten between 4-5 hours of uninterrupted sleep the 3 nights prior to that), I felt a tad better….and I have no doubt that the improvement was mostly due to my PMS packing up and leaving me alone for the next month.  I was able to go to work and feel like my ol’ self….thankfully.  But during those 2-1/2 days, I was scared I might be depressed again.  This time, I was prepared to seek cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which I admit wouldn’t hurt because I have a feeling that my proclivity to think negatively could use a serious makeover.  I need to know how to redirect my negative thinking, which just might improve all aspects of my life.  No more being overly defensive even with my own husband, which causes arguments.  No more thinking that my family and I are not welcome in our ‘hood; hence, my desire to move but realizing we need to stick it out until my daughter goes off to college.  No more feeling like I’m going to beat my head against the wall due to the thankless environment in which I’m stuck at work.  No more feeling like I’m growing farther and farther apart from the friends I’ve had for years.

All these thoughts were weighing down on me, and it didn’t help that I had an awful headache for the whole 2-1/2 days that I felt blue.  The sweet responses from my friends helped a lot.

Now, if only I can stay away from those dreadful articles…….there is yet another one waiting for me to read before I shut down my PC for the night.   I have a feeling it’s going to be a doozy, thanks to the title of the link that showed up in my Facebook news feed a little while ago.  Even if a new President were to be elected, the bad news is going to continue unabated.   I may sound like a pessimist, but I’m not.  I’m a realist merely pointing out how things are.  It’s not pretty out there.

Bottom line…..I think we all need to learn how to care about/empathize with each other more.  Empathy needs to be engrained in our youth starting from a young age.   Parents and other adults in a child’s life need to model empathy.   After all, children mimic their parents’ behavior.  Schools need to establish empathy programs to help reduce bullying incidents.  Empathy is the key to improving the state of the world we live in.  Otherwise, we are going to continue to raise children to be just like all the narcissistic/egomaniacal, narrow-minded, greedy, uncaring and callous individuals I keep reading about in the news lately.  Not saying all of you that are reading this blog post are going to raise children that way….just saying that unless we open our eyes and realize the difference empathy can make for us all, things are going to get uglier and uglier out there.  Here’s a site worth checking out: Start Empathy.

Wow, Didn’t Realize My Join the Anti-Bullying Movement Post Comes Up First in Searches!

I’m surprised to say that, and I only realized this a couple of days ago, that the 1st link that comes up under the term “Join the Anti-Bullying Movement” on Yahoo and Google is mine!  It’s not as if I coined the phrase, and it’s not a new concept, so not sure why…especially since my blog is dedicated primarily to postpartum depression/maternal mental health issues and awareness.  But I’ll take it!  🙂

This is an important issue, and it is so disheartening when you hear, just today that another child, this time a 14 year old in Iowa, has become another victim of bullycide (the term used for children who commit suicide as a consequence of bullying).   Bullying must stop!  The only way that’s going to happen, though, is for students, school staff, and parents to band together and prevent further tragedies from occurring.  No child should have to feel so victimized that they succumb to depression, low self esteem, cutting, etc.  I guest posted a few days ago over at the blog My Kindness Counts about my reflections on the movie “Bully” that was recently released.  My post includes things we can all do to to try to put an end to bullying. My Kindness Counts is written by a young girl named Jessica, whose mission is to encourage young people from around the nation to work together to come up with more positive ways to address bullying in our communities.   I applaud her efforts, as well as the efforts of a growing number of other young folks in this country, to try to help fellow teens get through what I refer to as some of the most challenging years of their lives.

The roots of depression most often stem from early childhood through teenage years.  Early bonding experiences with parents, stability of living conditions, quality friendships and an environment in which the parents serve as positive role models and are nurturing are key to minimizing self esteem issues that seem to be what so many youth struggle with.  Verbal, emotional and physical abuse, a parent(s) that is depressed and/or an alcoholic, and bullying in school all take a tremendous toll on a child’s sense of security and self esteem.  The result of low self esteem include eating disorders, cutting, doing drugs, drinking, and depression. It doesn’t help that the teenage years are a time in which physical and behavioral changes occur that challenge self confidence levels and a sense of identity (in which a sense of belonging is important) as well.  The way a young person reacts to adversity, like bullying for example, depends on his/her overall emotional health and level of self confidence.

Our youth represent our future.  Let’s help make sure their teenage years are positive experiences.  Let’s help make sure depression rates don’t continue to climb.  Let’s build a culture of empathy.  Let’s speak up about mental health issues and keep the attitudes about these issues going in a positive direction via the daily dialogues we have, rather than continuing to sweep them under the rug with a See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, there’s nothing wrong, they’ll get over it, attitude….and an attitude that perpetuates the stigma and ignorance that has kept us in the dark, all blind, deaf, and mute for far too long.  The statistics indicate that each and every one of us knows someone who is struggling with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or some other mental illness.  We need to get a grip on reality, smell the coffee…whatever!  You get the picture….or do you?  I surely hope so!

Empathy Makes the World Go Round

“Some people think only intellect counts: knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it. But the functions of intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion, and empathy.
— Dean Koontz
 
And here’s another quote on empathy.  This one’s from Meryl Streep:  “The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.”   I’d like to finish the thought off with “But empathy, like all other gifts a human being may have, is wasted if you don’t put it to use.”
 
What, you may ask, does empathy have anything to do with postpartum depression, the topic to which I’ve devoted my blog?  Postpartum depression (PPD), like depression and any other mental health disorder, is widely misunderstood in large part due to the fact that those who’ve never experienced it will never know what it’s like and will never be able to understand or even empathize with a PPD sufferer—unless of course, they experience it themselves.  Not being able to understand or empathize with someone who has PPD, depression or any other mental health disorder serves to increase a feeling of isolation for those who are suffering and hence keep these individuals from speaking up due to feelings of shame.   In general, those things that people don’t understand cause people to judge, label, criticize and keep away.   But that’s the last thing a mom with PPD needs.  We see a mom who looks down and needs help, we should offer her support without being judgmental. 
 
What we need is a culture of empathy, rather than a culture of me, me, me and who cares what’s going on around me with other people.  What we have now is people who–and this is one of many reasons why I’m blogging about this topic right now–don’t give a you-know-what about the pain and suffering of other individuals.  And it’s all because they just know what they know and there is no other way of thinking and behaving than how they think and behave.  Which means that they know that all mothers are supposed to be glowing and happy, and if they’re not, then they’re bad mothers.  Snap out of it.  There’s no such thing as depression.  It’s mind over matter.  Yeah, whatever. 
 
Here’s another example of our general lack of empathy.  The number of people trashing Amy Winehouse and their disdainful, self righteous, disrespectful, and nasty comments pissed me off, and the thought of blogging about that has been brewing within me ever since the day I, along with many others, was shocked and dismayed to learn of her death.  I don’t think I need to say it, but it’s very disrespectful to criticize a person after they’ve passed on, especially when they haven’t the foggiest idea what sort of demons this person was truly having to deal with.   People were saying things like she had it coming to her because she chose to continue drinking and doing drugs, refusing to go to rehab.  How do they know that she refused to get help?  And for that matter, how do they know what was tormenting her and how bad she really felt?  People were saying she decided to not go to rehab and obviously didn’t care and neither should anyone else, for that matter.  These same cold-hearted critics shook virtual fingers and heads at people writing or voicing their sympathy, saying things like “alcoholism and drug addiction aren’t illnesses, that’s plain bullshit.”    Yeah, okay, then.  You know everything.  Whatever. 
 
Well, there is a correlation between alcoholism and drug addiction with mood disorders in that drinking and drugs may be a means for self medication for some who are suffering from depression and who many not know it.  They may not know the right way of getting help.  Or there is a horrendously long lead time (like there is in the U.S.) of several months to even get an appointment with a therapist…which is ridiculous and something I wold love to blog about later.  What innocently starts at one drink can go to two to three drinks and more in order to help forget the pain that one is feeling….or one pain med or mixture of pain meds to try to rid themselves of their mental pain….and before you know it, they are addicted….or even worse, accidentally overdose.  Sounds like Heath Ledger, one of my favorite actors, and some other actors/musicians we know…
 
Not everyone drinks or takes drugs to ease mental pain.  I mentioned in previous posts that I spent the first 35 or so years of my life unhappy, and yet I didn’t drink until I was 21, I never picked up a cigarette, and I never touched drugs.  I didn’t have any form of counseling, though it probably would have helped ease the pain I was going through.  I didn’t have anyone empathetic to turn to, period.  No friends, parents or others in my life to turn to.  Sad, but if it weren’t for my experience then and my experience with PPD, I would not be able to empathize with others in a similar situation.  I would not “get it” like I “get it” today.  My eyes wouldn’t be wide open.   My lids would be drawn, all dark and clueless. 
 
I’ve seen friends debate on Facebook whether one is born with empathy or it is learned.   I’ve seen many articles written on the topic as a consequence of the recent bullying incidents.  I’ve blogged about empathy in the past, and here I am again.  After all, it’s empathy–in addition to kindness– that makes the world go round.   But then again, so would world peace and look where we are with that.  Anyway, there is so much untapped potential if parents and schools all did their part and taught our children empathy.  Yes, I do believe empathy can be learned.  I believe empathy is a component of behavior, and behavior is driven in part by genetics and the environment in which one is raised.  I also believe that some people are born with the ability to be more empathetic than others. 
 
Forget prejudism, judging, criticizing, back stabbing, gossiping, bullying, and other sorts of hateful behavior.  Let’s raise our children to care and to be kind…..kind of like children are–friendly with everyone– until between the ages of 6-8 when they start forming cliques, opinions, and atittudes.  Click here for a recent article titled “Teaching Empathy to the ‘Me’ Generation” by Eric Leake. 
 
After all, the fate of our world’s future lies in our children’s hands. 
 

You Are Perfect to Me, Says the Parent to the Child

Two songs with meaningful lyrics, by two of my favorite artists, P!nk and Bruno Mars, have been at the top of the Billboard music chart.   

Bruno’s lyrics were a remake of the original (and I love this rendition, just like I love the video…one of my favorites), with this phrase catching my attention:  “You’re amazing just the way you are,” which he tells his girlfriend all the time because she doesn’t see the beauty that he sees in her.  The lyrics go on to say “When I compliment her, she wont believe me, and its so, its so sad to think she don’t see what I see.”   Looks like some low self esteem, though I’m not too sure whether the public has been thinking that deeply about what the lyrics actually mean.  

Speaking of low self esteem, that’s where Bruno’s “Just the Way You Are” lyrics intersect with P!nk’s “F**kin Perfect” lyrics.  P!nk wrote her lyrics and created her video for a specific purpose, and it was a very emotional experience for her.   With the goal of promoting awareness and the desire to effect change, P!nk’s lyrics and video were designed to grab one’s attention, make people think and talk about the topic at hand–a lack of nurturing environment for children/teens that lead to feelings of isolation that lead to desperation and depression.  The words that grab my attention in the song are:  “Mistreated, misplaced, misunderstood…. Mistaken, always second guessing, underestimated…You’re so mean, when you talk about yourself, you were wrong….Change the voices in your head, make them like you instead.  Pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel like you’re less than f*ckin’ perfect.  Pretty pretty please, if you ever ever feel like you’re nothing, you’re f*cking perfect to me.”  Click here to see the complete lyrics.

I love it when celebrities who have the platform, the spotlight and therefore the ability to attract the attention of so many people use them to try to bring attention to important topics.  Now that P!nk’s song is a #1 hit, she can pass on the message that depression is an extremely serious problem in this society, and we need to stop ignoring it and do something about it.   And it all starts with discussion.  After all, we don’t typically like to talk about things like depression, cutting, suicide and other mental health issues due to the stigma relating to all of that.   With more people speaking up, there will be an increased awareness of the problem at hand and a decrease in the stigma that has prevailed for too damn long.   People will be less bullying, more empathetic.  Less competitive, more caring. 

There are two possible tacks we can all take to address this problem (but obviously it’s the first one that is preferable): 

1.  Proactive and preventive: 

Help people understand how their actions can have serious consequences on others.  Love, nurture, provide emotional support and patience to your children.  Ahem, parents, that would be you I’m addressing this to.  See past post on teen angst and depression.  We can lower the depression rates by creating a nurturing environment for our youth and teaching them how to cope with issues head-on, building self-confidence and self-awareness, and thinking positively.   Yes, we have the power to lower the risk for depression in our youth…and subsequently, there will be fewer adults with depression..and that includes women with postpartum depression!  Granted, depression tends to be hereditary, but that does NOT mean that everyone with depression running in the family will develop depression.  The environment in which our youth grow up is KEY.

2.  Reactive and remedial: 

Ensure individuals experiencing low self esteem, feelings of isolation, and depression get the help they need right away.   Be educated enough to recognize the signs that something is not right, and ensure they gets the help they need immediately.  DO NOT WAIT and think that things will resolve on their own because they WON’T.  Today, we are in dire need when it comes to improvements in mental healthcare.   Former First Lady Mr. Rosalynn Carter’s book “WITHIN OUR REACH: Ending the Mental Health Crisis” is a must read if you want to get a better understanding of the reality of our mental healthcare system as it stands today.  I’m sure there are many other books that can be read about this, but her book was the only one I’ve read (she signed my copy of it at the Postpartum Support International and Marce Society conference I attended last October).  It’s a quick read and  does a very good job summarizing today’s state of affairs.

I wanted to bring to your attention an excerpt of P!nk’s message regarding the reasons behind her lyrics and video (and I’ve chosen not to embed her video in my post because if you haven’t seen it yet, it can be very triggering):

“Cutting, and suicide, two very different symptoms of the same problem, are gaining on us. (the problem being; alienation and depression. the symptoms; cutting and suicide). ….Its a problem, and its something we should talk about. We can choose to ignore the problem….but that won’t make it go away…..I support the kids out there that feel so desperate/numb/powerless, that feel unseen and unheard, and can’t see another way.. I want them to know I’m aware. I have been there. I see them. Sometimes that’s all it takes.” 

Amen, P!nk, Amen!  I know you were writing these lyrics with your own baby in your belly in mind, and you want to be sure your child grows up in a warm and loving environment….one in which you yourself didn’t have.  I am going to ensure that my daughter has a much different experience than I had when I grew up.

Sticks and Stones……Words Will Never Hurt Me

Just a quick note as something was weighing heavily on my mind, something that got me quite down today, in fact.  But, I say to myself, I’m NOT going to let those nasty ol’ words someone stooped low enough to say to me today bother me anymore.  Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will NEVER hurt me.  They are just words…..even if they were uttered by a family member.  Oops, so the truth snuck out….or part of the truth.  Can’t elaborate any further.  Hey, I have no fear of saying this on the Internet.  It’s not like that person ever paid any attention to my blog, or cared about what I had to say in the least.   Everytime I talk, this person’s attention would clearly drift to la la land.  Always wanting and needing the spotlight.  Always boasting about their accomplishments, while poking fun at the fact that I still have trouble verbalizing what the heck I do at work everyday.  Always expecting everyone else to cater to them, but when someone else  like me needs something, they couldn’t run away faster.  In fact, that’s why they live as far away as they do. 

The spiteful words this person uttered to me makes me wonder how in the world I can be related to them.  I’ve come this far in life, I do not intend to allow these words drag me back to my miserable teenage years, struggling to cope with school and my family life.   I almost did, hiding beneath my covers in tears.  But then, I realized I couldn’t be this way.  I couldn’t be like I was in high school, hiding away in my bedroom for hours at a time.  I now have a family (something this person probably will never have because they still desperately need to be catered to themselves and are so incredibly self-absorbed).  It was my daughter’s “Mommy, can you come downstairs to play with me?” that snapped me back to reality.  I needed to get a grip.  I then  realized that, if I survived postpartum depression, I should be able to survive most anything. 

Words have the power to cripple, but only as far as you’ll let them!

The Mental Cost Behind A Nomadic Childhood Experience

Thought you’d never see me post again, eh?   I think this is the longest (2-1/2 wks) I’ve gone without posting since I started this blog up in February ’09.  I just got really, really busy.  One would think that the summer would be all fun and stuff, but nah, not for me.  Work has been crazy busy, and I had to get my house ready for about 30 guests this past Saturday, which meant a week’s worth of cleaning.

I rely in many cases on what my blogging friends post to give me inspiration on what to blog about.  I also rely on tweets.  But since I’ve been out of the loop– as far as the Internet is concerned–for the past 2-1/2 weeks, I don’t have the latest scoop on anything.  So, I am going to blog about something that caught my attention 2 months ago.  It was a NY Times article titled “Does Moving a Child Create Adult Baggage?” by Pamela Paul.  

Without a doubt, the answer to the question is “YES!”  This is from personal experience.  Now, before you think I’m digressing from the topic of postpartum depression, read on…and read on all the way to the end of my post, and you’ll see why I am writing about my nomadic childhood experience.

When people ask me what my home town is, I can’t say North Caldwell, NJ, even though that is where I spent the majority of my life.   Plus the fact that I didn’t care to live there at all…I don’t have any pleasant memories of my 20+ years as a resident there.   Before North Caldwell, I had lived in 7 other places.  That’s 8 homes by the time I was in 7th grade.   For a while, I was moving on average once a year. 

My brothers were basically born and raised there, so all the friends they made in preschool followed them through to elementary school and then onto junior high and senior high.   I, on the other hand, had to make friends from scratch when I started 7th grade for the first time in this school district.   I had to do that at the toughest stage of any person’s life, which is puberty–a roller coaster ride (and boy, do I HATE roller coaster rides) I wanted to get off of so many times but couldn’t.  I really hated life then.  It didn’t help that I was shy and sensitive.  Not sure if I was born that way or that was the consequence of moving so many times.  Plus the fact that I was the only Chinese girl in a class of about 350 students who were primarily of Italian or Jewish descent.   Why else do you think the producers of “The Sopranos” chose to base their show out of N. Caldwell, NJ?  Teenagers can be mean to begin with.  When you put a stranger in their midst, and one who is quiet, probably not the most attractive and definitely not the best dressed, and Chinese to boot, you get P-R-E-J-U-D-I-S-M. 

Now, back to the article.  Up at the top, the author writes “THE GIST: Moves in childhood may do long-term harm.”   I agree wholeheartedly.  The long-term harm it has done to me is a lifelong insecurity in terms of my relationships with others, which is key to my generally low self esteem that I have been fighting to overcome all my life and hasn’t helped my job situation all that much, believe me. 

“PITY the military or academic brat.”  

Everytime I tell people that I used to move a lot, I get the same ol’ question “Oh, is your father in the military?”  It’s gotten to the point that I beat people to the question with the explanation “We weren’t military or anything.  It was due to my father’s job situation.”   He kept moving because he couldn’t find a job that he wanted to stick with.  It wasn’t until he established his own company, which is when we moved to N. Caldwell, that he was content to settle down.  Timing was great for my brothers.  Lousy for me.

“Psychologists, sociologists and epidemiologists have long recognized that children who move often tend to perform worse in school and have more behavioral problems than those with a firmly rooted picket fence.”

I could’ve told people the same thing even without reading this article.  This is the reason why my husband and I intend to stay planted where we are now until our daughter graduates from college. 

“[Findings suggest that] serial movers tended to report fewer ‘quality’ social relationships. The more times people moved as children, the more likely they were to report lower ‘well-being’ and ‘life satisfaction’ as adults (two standard measures used to quantify that ineffable thing called ‘happiness’).”

That first sentence describes me.  I would say that staying rooted in one place is important to enable quality social relationships to develop, which is a key part of most people’s lives.  After all, humans are social beings. 

“[Frequent moves during childhood negatively impact] “certain personality types. Introverts and those [who are deemed] moody, nervous or high strung…..were adversely affected, while extroverts remained blissfully unmoved.  Though this is just one study, Professor Oishi said, ‘Parents who are considering moving need to think about their children’s personalities and the potential risk.'” 

Though this research is too late for me, I now know better as far as my own daughter is concerned.  She is, like me, on the more nervous and high strung side of things.  I know what I need to do is to give her a stable, firmly rooted, non-transient, non-nomadic lifestyle.  The kind of lifestyle I wish I had had while growing up.

“Relocating is much harder on middle schoolers, already wrestling with puberty, than on younger and older children.”

Well, there you have it.  Now that I know what I know now, I am going to make sure my daughter has an easier life than I did when it comes to things that are within my control.  Like moving, for instance.  My husband and I will do our darndest (knock on wood) to have our jobs revolve around where we live.   From experience and knowledge of the impact of decisions we make, we can try our best to pave the way for our children to have less stress during their formidable years, which are basically their school years, and minimize the risk for teenage angst the best we can.    I want to minimize my daughter’s risk for depression…and postpartum depression when she hopefully has her own child(ren), God willing (so I can be a grandma).

Finally, as I’d mentioned in a previous post, the predisposition for depression in many cases is genetic, but whether those genes are expressed, or turned on, depends on the following:

  • your experiences during childhood and adolescence
  • the overall environment in which you live during those years
  • the severity of stressors with which you are confronted early in your life
  • how much nurturing (support, positive role modeling and positive reinforcement) you get from your parents

If we want to keep our children free of depression, along with nurturing, loving, encouraging and spending quality time with them, we need to minimize the stressors that they face within reason, especially as they go through adolescence.  Be aware and supportive of your children’s school experiences and activities, and help them with any challenges they face.   We can help minimize and even help prevent the onset of depression when our children are at their most vulnerable emotionally, which is during their adolescent years.

Bullying and Suicide…Teen Angst and Depression

I have been focusing my tweets on bullying and teen suicide lately due to the recent media attention on the topics due to the string of suicides—one of which is that of Phoebe Prince of S. Hadley, MA (which happens to be the town of my alma mater)–some of which were the consequence of bullying.  Now, before you start to think that perhaps I’ve digressed from the topic of postpartum depression (PPD), please take a few minutes to read on.   I hope you will do so, because I believe the message is extremely important. 

“Don’t wait for your child to come to you with information that she is being bullied. Watch for warning signs, and approach your child if you suspect bullying. Warning signs include unexplained injuries (including scratches); a lack of friends; fear about attending school/events with peers; suddenly beginning to do poorly in school; moodiness or change in demeanor; complaints of physical symptoms, such as stomachaches or headaches; and change in sleeping or eating habits.”

Most of these happen to be warning signs of depression.  Parents need to be able to recognize symptoms and understand the risk factors for depression and be on the lookout for them in their children proactively.  Parents should never make the assumption (you know what they say about assumptions) that their kid couldn’t possibly be struggling with a mood disorder –like depression, for one—because of their smiling and energetic outward appearances and involvement with activities, sports and friends.  My belief is that, if we all educate ourselves on the risk factors and symptoms of depression, we can help minimize and even help prevent the onset of depression when our children are at their most vulnerable emotionally, which is during their adolescent years.  Click here for what makes girls more prone to depression once they hit puberty.

These are my suggestions on what we can all do with respect to bullying in school:

  •  Parents need to serve as good role models of kindness and empathy, rather than the attributes I referred to in my last post as “Meow” behavior.  Parents also need to be proactive when they see their child or someone else’s child being bullied.  Don’t just stand around and think it will pass, it’s no big deal, and my (or the) kid can take it.  Doing nothing would support the already prevalent notion that bullying is acceptable and a normal part of growing up….when in fact it’s neither.
  • Society as a whole—including our school system—is culpable from not having enough educational campaigns on bullying and anti-bullying policies/laws….or even spotting symptoms of depression, for that matter.  The superintendent and principal in the S. Hadley high school should be fired. Intolerance for bullying behavior should be demonstrated via appropriate actions taken against those charged with the care of children. They should absolutely be held accountable for the behavior they knew about and yet chose to do nothing about. All schools should be required to develop anti-bullying policies. In my high school, I tried to speak to my guidance counselor, and she was of no help at all.  Well, then, make sure that people who hold such positions are properly trained to handle different circumstances of teen issues!

Who knows just how many teenagers want to commit suicide because they feel alone in their experience, miserable because no one seems to understand what they are going through? I’ve been through all this, I know. I’ve been bullied in school. But it was nothing compared to what Phoebe had to suffer day in and day out…..literally, because with Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and texting, you can’t escape the bullying.  It all follows you into the privacy of your own home. Not only that, but the whole bullying thing opens up to a wider audience on the worldwide web. This is what kids being bullied now have to deal with. If I felt as miserable as I did back before the days of computers, God only knows what would’ve happened if I were a teenager today, being bullied via text messages, Facebook, Twitter, etc.?  I might have ended up like Phoebe. 

My Miserable Teenage Years

I had a lonely and miserable childhood.  It didn’t help that we moved eight times before my family finally settled in North Caldwell, NJ, right in time for my brothers to enter elementary school.  I can certainly understand how children of military families feel in terms of instability and no one place to call home.  My parents didn’t sell that house until both my brothers moved out of the house and I got married.  Great childhood experience for both my brothers.  Lousy one for me.  Unlike my brothers who are still friends with their childhood friends, I do not have any childhood friends from school, as I never had a chance to develop any long-term friendships.  It got to the point that I was scared to make friends.  It didn’t help that I was painfully shy.  And it wasn’t easy making friends from scratch at a junior high school where everyone already had their cliques and where I was the only Chinese girl in a class of approximately 350 students.  Prejudice was rampant at West Essex Regional School.  I had to endure people making fun of me, taunting me constantly.  I’ll never forget the day I walked by a school bus and someone spit at me through a window.  I may have survived all those taunts, and they indelibly molded me into the person I am today, but those memories still exist like scars from old wounds that won’t completely heal.  The instability, lack of nurturing and support and friendship, and prejudice were the basis for my low self-esteem that I have been trying hard to boost all my life.  I might’ve liked school more if I wasn’t so troubled, not trusting anyone, feeling isolated and facing racism every day.  Perhaps I would’ve done better.  Who knows?  I’ll never know now.  There’s no point dwelling on the past. 

 If it weren’t for the friends I made at church retreats, my Northern NJ Chinese teen club, and Chinese School, I would not have had any friends during my teen years.  It was bad timing in terms of when my father decided to move to North Caldwell.  I was a pretty unhappy teenager having to cope with my Asian identity being brought up as a first generation Chinese girl in a predominantly Caucasian and prejudiced community.  It was even tough for me to make friends at my Chinese church in Montville, NJ.  Surprisingly, some of the kids there weren’t necessarily the friendliest bunch either.  I didn’t fit in with the “in crowd” there who for some reason refused to welcome me into their group, yet another clique I had neither the patience nor desire to try to fit in with.  But at least I shared something in common with these kids.  My Asian ethnicity.   

I survived most of these years without talking to anyone about what I was going through.  As with most Chinese parents of my parents’ era (i.e., those born and raised in China), feelings and emotions are not expressed.  They are kept inside.  That was just part of their culture and upbringing, which was in complete contrast to the Western way.  I couldn’t talk to my brothers because they were mere kids, one of whom was nearly half my age.  I didn’t have close friends or relatives.  And I could never get anywhere talking to my mother, as she would defend her behavior and my father’s, insisting over and over again that they were doing the best they could to raise the three of us.  This is why I’ve always had the tendency to withdraw into my own world.  It’s because I had nowhere else to go.  No one to talk to.  No one to listen.  No one who could provide me with advice.  No shoulder to cry on.  No one who could understand me.  My high school years were so lonely, and why I abhor looking back on those days.  I so wanted someone to understand and listen to me, but there was no one.  Not a single soul.  Every once in a while I would get a momentary flashback that would cause me to shiver and grimace.  I hated my high school and pretty much everyone in it.  I hated and saw no purpose to my life, if I was going to be this miserable. 

Like many teenagers, I thought about suicide a lot because I was so unhappy with my life.   I wanted a quick way to escape from my miserable life.  Luckily, I was always too afraid to carry out my thoughts.  I never had insomnia, didn’t experience any significant weight loss (though I was always thin throughout my high school years), and didn’t experience constant sadness or restlessness (though I constantly worried, which was my nature which I inherited from my mother).  I was able to make it to school each day—though with anxiety and dread—and despite my angst, I even managed to make it into the National Honor Society.   Despite my misery, I never developed any kind of dependence to sleeping pills or alcohol.  I never tried drugs and never picked up a cigarette in my life, which given how unhappy I was, was quite a remarkable feat.  Looking back now, I have to give myself a lot of credit.  I’m a much stronger person than I ever imagined I was capable of being.   

The defense mechanism I developed over the years was distancing myself from all those around me.  Many a person has admitted to me how difficult it is to get to know me. Even my closest friends have never seen me cry.   There always seems to be this invisible barrier around me that prevents me from truly confiding in and trusting anyone with my emotions.  This would ultimately work against me as I found out during my PPD.   I couldn’t ever let my friends know how down I was, let alone see me while I was depressed.  Unfortunately, it was during the throes of PPD that I needed support the most.  Because I never confided much in any of my friends to begin with, why should now be any different?  It was partly my fault for not confiding my experience with my friends.  So I can’t fault them for not talking to me or coming to visit me more often. 

All throughout life, I have had to keep reminding myself that it’s not possible to be friends with everyone you know.  I had to keep these thoughts engrained in my mind throughout most of my life:

  • Friendships are two-way streets. 
  • Life is too short to try to make a friendship work when it really wasn’t meant to be. 
  • In most cases, it’s not what you do or don’t do.  If you’re consistently nice to everyone, and some people aren’t for whatever reason nice to you or don’t want to be your friend, it’s not your fault.  It’s them.  They’re the ones with an issue with which you shouldn’t have to be bothered.
  • You can’t force a friendship to work. 
  • You can’t change a dead-end street into a two-way one. 
  • There’s a lot more fish in the pond, as they say.  Just move on.

Having grown up with 2 brothers, I’ve always found it easier to make friends with guys, since they are generally not prone to being driven by emotion, acting superficial, acting feline/catty, and being backstabbing gossipers.  A prime example was this Korean bitch (and that’s the nicest thing I can think of saying about this woman) that turned absolutely all of my friends from Columbia University against me by making up stories…..some people are just so twisted!  Needless to say, this behavior is the norm in high school, college and even into the 20s.  Luckily for me, Mt. Holyoke was generally not a breeding ground for this kind of inane and immature behavior.  Of course, there will always be exceptions.  For some people it never stops.  Some people are like that until the day they pass on. 

I’d had many people advise me that I will find, as time goes on, things wouldn’t be the same once all my male friends get married and have kids.  So I should try to make more female friends and nurture those friendships as much as I could.  For some women it’s a cinch.  For others like me, it’s not that easy.  It’s hard work, and sometimes I’d rather focus my energies on other things.  Little did I know back then that social support by other women in the community, including friends and neighbors, is very important during the postpartum period.

What I learned from doing the research for my book and from my experience with PPD, I am now certain I never suffered from clinical depression before.  I often felt unhappy and withdrawn, and tended to hide in my bedroom from the world that I felt was so cruel.  It is completely normal to experience sadness and cry in reaction to something negative that happens.  Depression, however, is an illness – experienced by men, women and children – that can be debilitating to the point of no longer being able to carry out normal functions.  Depression can also cause sleep disturbances (i.e., insomnia), appetite disturbances (e.g., over or under-eating, weight loss or gain), and digestive problems (e.g., nausea, diarrhea).  I never experienced any physical symptoms like insomnia, loss of appetite or weight loss.  Sure, there were times where I wouldn’t be my “energetic” (the term many friends/associates have used to describe me) self and felt so unhappy (usually about someone that was causing anxiety, like a co-worker, a boss or a boyfriend) that I wouldn’t get out of bed. 

There were times during my high school years in which I just wanted to disappear because I wanted to “escape” from the problem, the easiest way out without having to deal with it.  I’d cry a lot and felt safest in my bedroom.  My bedroom was my sanctuary.  You could only imagine how difficult and sad it was when my parents sold our house of over 20 years, the only home I’ve ever stayed in for longer than 4 years at a stretch.  Saying goodbye to that bedroom was so, so difficult.

Now that I’ve experienced it, I know that my very first depressive episode ever was the one I experienced after my daughter’s birth.  What I felt growing up was mostly attributable to teen angst, a need to be understood and to understand myself and like myself, unhappiness about my life in general, and hatred of school and all things related to school including everyone in my high school class.  With PPD, I suffered from lack of appetite and rapid weight loss.  I never had that growing up.  My teenage weight was always steady and under 100 pounds (wow, those were the good ol’ days!).  I was just prone to anxiety, which caused such physical symptoms as dry heaving, nausea and stomachaches.  You would think my doctor back then would have attributed those symptoms to anxiety, but it never came up.  He never asked me questions to try to get to the bottom of it.  Not much difference in the medical profession from the 1970s and now.  What a shame!  I can distinctly recall experiencing dry heaves each morning as I was getting ready for school, not having any appetite to eat breakfast but forcing it down anyway because my mother insisted I eat.  Upset stomachs and a burning sensation in my gut were a regular occurrence – both of which I self-diagnosed as lactose intolerance (I self-diagnosed even back then, since I had to endure a number of unsuccessful treatments that included kaopectate, milk of magnesia, some kind of medication for ulcers—none of which helped relieve my symptoms), so I haven’t had a glass of milk since 10th grade.  The cessation of milk drinking seemed to relieve some of my symptoms, but ultimately my “nervous stomach” occurrences slowly but surely stopped in the years after I graduated from high school.  If you looked at my photos from my junior high and high school years, you’d see a shell of a person, all skinny and unhappy looking. 

Nowadays, I have trouble keeping my weight down to the level I’m supposed to be at for my height.  There’s a direct correlation of happiness to weight.  The happier I get, the heavier I am.  The weight gain, personality transformation and general increase in happiness about my life started when I went off to Mt. Holyoke.  My first time living away from home.  No more parental pressures and nagging.  Freedom!    With the exception of my tumultuous relationships with men, I did not suffer from the kind of unhappiness that I endured all throughout high school.  I definitely do NOT miss those years!

How anyone could think that PPD isn’t real is beyond me

Postpartum depression (PPD), and depression for that matter, is an imaginary, or make-believe illness, a state of mind that can be changed at will, a means to get attention, an excuse to take medication to escape from reality, a sign of weakness or self indulgence, an excuse to avoid the reality of motherhood.

Yeah, get a grip on reality–and get educated while you’re at it–for crying out loud.  These statements couldn’t be further away from the truth.  In this day and age, how anyone can believe any of this BS (especially other women) is beyond me.   Why can’t women be supportive of each other instead of being so critical and competitive with each other?!   That includes being supportive of and contributing toward efforts that will help mothers experiencing PPD rather than impeding those efforts (those people, by the way, should be ashamed of themselves).  Why women have to be so feline (note:  my #2 anger trigger is feline behavior, after my #1 anger trigger of behavior & remarks made out of ignorance/racism/condescension) is beyond me!

Skeptics will claim that, since PPD isn’t necessarily detectable via blood work nor a growth or wound or handicap that is visible to the naked eye, that it must not be real.   And please don’t say this is a recent phenomenon or that women have been giving birth thousands of years and we’ve only seen a rise in PPD awareness–and thank goodness for that–in the past decade, so it must be a new invention made up by women in today’s generation because they can’t cut it like the tougher women of previous generations.  Right.    Anyway, this “recent phenomenon” is thanks to the women out there (you go girls!)–plus celebrities who are finally gaining the courage to speak up more about a condition that has been documented as far back as the days of Hippocrates.  Scientists have not been spending years on research on treatments, detection, determination of risk factors, etc. for lack of anything better to do.

People out there scoff at the idea of PPD and claim to know all about it, when in fact they don’t.  Why?  Because they never suffered it themselves…duh.  They’ll claim that all new mothers experience mood shifts after childbirth.  Hello, you’re thinking of the blues, which happen within the first couple of weeks postpartum and resolve on its own.  They’ll claim that there is no scientific evidence that PPD exists.   They’ll claim that insomnia, a classic symptom of PPD, is merely sleep deprivation and fatigue that all new moms experience.  They’ll also claim that having a panic attack is the same thing as anxiety that comes from difficulties in transitioning to motherhood and being a first-time mom.  Now, had these people actually experienced real PPD, including real insomnia and real panic attacks, they would understand what it’s like to have PPD,  insomnia and panic attacks.   Until then, they should keep their ridiculous claims to themselves.  I’m not going to tell these skeptics to do their reading because no amount of facts will change these peoples’ minds…unless perhaps they experience any of these conditions for themselves.   It’s really a shame, isn’t it, that people insist on maintaining their stubborn beliefs, regardless of how ridiculous they are.

Many of these skeptics of PPD are also skeptical of depression, in general.  They’ll claim that depression is a matter of mind over matter.  They’ll claim that anyone can snap out of depression on their own accord.  Well, wake up!  The ability to will or wish away depression is a myth.  You can’t overcome it by just putting your mind to it.  PPD is a real illness with a biological cause, just like diabetes and heart disease.  You can’t just “snap out of it” any more than you could if you had an ulcer, diabetes or heart disease.  Until I experienced PPD, I thought depression is just a state of mind.  I used to say things like “I’m depressed” whenever I felt sad.  Now, I’m careful to not use the word “depressed” in the context of sadness.  I believe the majority of folks out there mistakenly think that being depressed is the same thing as being sad, feeling down or feeling blue.   People, particularly OB/GYNs,  need to stop getting these two very distinctly different conditions confused with each other because by doing so, they are preventing women with PPD from getting the help they need right at the beginning.  Not to mention, perpetuate the misconceptions about PPD.

With PPD, the longer you wait to seek help, the harder it is to recover from.  But why wouldn’t you get the help that you need to get better and enjoy motherhood sooner?  Why suffer longer than you have to?   There are many possible reasons, though high up at the top of the list would be 1) mistakenly thinking that this is just the way it is with being a first-time mother who is trying to cope but just going through a rough patch (because they don’t know any better due to lack of education about PPD and their doctors’ misdiagnosis as blues) and 2) fear from the stigma associated with mental illnesses and what others would think/say and.    All too many women will unnecessarily struggle with toughing it out or self medicating with alcohol or other substances.

My best piece of advice to you moms out there is to not give a damn what other people think.  Now, if I could take a dose of my own medicine, that would solve one of the biggest habits—or weaknesses, that is—I’ve had so much trouble kicking over the course of my lifetime!  Your priority should be the wellbeing of you and your family.  The best thing you can do for yourself and for your baby—in fact, for your whole family—is to seek help as soon as you experience three of more of the symptoms described in my post “Baby Blues is NOT the Same as PPD!”  Don’t wait until you are crippled by the effects of PPD like I was.    Prolonged and untreated depression can not only negatively affect your marriage and your baby’s cognitive and social development, it can unnecessarily strain your relationship with your partner.  Worse yet, untreated PPD can lead to such feelings of hopelessness that ending your life may seem like the only way out of the pain.  Don’t try to tough it out, thinking what you’re experiencing will pass on its own just as quickly as it developed.  Don’t try to tough it out because others around you are trying to convince you that this is all part of the process of transitioning to motherhood, that every new mom experiences sleep deprivation and anxiety (see previous post on the difference between that and true insomnia, a very common PPD symptom if it is experienced 3 weeks or later after childbirth).

Though the symptoms and their severity may be unique to every woman, PPD is debilitating to all those who suffer from it.  Depression–and there are thousands in this country today that are afflicted with it– affects people physically, not just mentally.  It is a physical illness that is the result of a chemical imbalance.   Hormonal changes are responsible for perinantal (during pregnancy and postpartum)—and even premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)—mood disorders and an imbalance in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.  Serotonin is one such neurotransmitter.  Research shows that serotonin dysregulation is a primary cause of PMDD and PPD.  A sudden and huge drop in estrogen levels immediately after childbirth contributes to a decrease in serotonin availability in the brain.  Since serotonin promotes normal mood, a decrease in serotonin availability in the brain is associated with anxiety/depression.  This is why medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which increase serotonin availability in the brain, have in many cases been effective in the treatment of PPD.   An SSRI was effective for me.

Let me explain something here, lest the words “medications” and “SSRIs” trigger a violent reaction among the anti-pharma faction out there.  I am not advocating medication for everyone.  Different treatments will work for different women.  A woman must be informed enough to be able to make a decision that she feels is right for herself.   Being informed means having ready access to information about PPD, its symptoms, where to go for help, what treatments are available, what medications are usually prescribed and their side effects and risk of being passed to the baby via breastfeeding, etc.   It also means having a doctor that is adequately trained to detect, diagnose and treat perinatal mood disorders.  But many doctors are still not adequately qualified to do any of that, plus lack adequate tools and resources.  This is why awareness about PPD and preventive measures (like lining up adequate social support and getting 5 hours of interrupted sleep as much as possible in the first 6-8 weeks postpartum) are so, so critical to everyone who plans on having a baby. 

I’d like to close with this piece of advice to the skeptics.  Without knowing the full story (or without ever experiencing PPD or any other illness directly) one should NEVER pass judgment on the situation of others.   Women with PPD do not need to be scoffed at, doubted and criticized.  They need support and understanding.  If you were in their shoes, would you want to be on the receiving end of these negative or–shall I say–tasteless behaviors?

Benefits of Yoga During IVF and Pregnancy

I know I mentioned my next blog post would be my Part II advice on getting a minimum of 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep, but I had to squeeze this short one in beforehand.  It’s been on my mind ever I saw the recent post over at Postpartum Progress on the benefits of yoga. 

Researchers in Iran provided the results on their study of the benefits of yoga on anxiety and depression in women in the May 2009 issue of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice (Volume 15, Issue 2, Pages 102-104).  The conclusion of the abstract reads as follows: 

“Participation in a two-month yoga class can lead to significant reduction in perceived levels of anxiety in women who suffer from anxiety disorders. This study suggests that yoga can be considered as a complementary therapy or an alternative method for medical therapy in the treatment of anxiety disorders.”

 What I forgot to mention in my previous post relating to my IVF experience is that what probably made a huge difference–other than the fact that I had an excellent experience over at RMA of NY–was the fact that I took yoga lessons once a week during the IVF process and I stopped taking the lessons once implantation took place (because I was afraid some of those yoga moves might be too much for the less than handful of eggs that were just implanted inside me).  Believe me, from the time those eggs were implanted and the next 9 months, I took all manner of precaution to avoid mental and physical strain to preserve my pregnancy.   Looking back, I probably should have taken pregnancy yoga classes (or at least followed a pregnancy yoga DVD) to reduce anxiety that would rear its head every now and then when I experienced spotting and pain.  Mind you, I don’t think my anxiety levels were abnormally high during my pregnancy.  I think it was perfectly normal for me to be concerned with spotting and pain after having gone through what I’d gone through to get that far with the pregnancy.   I mean, who wouldn’t feel concerned, given the situation?

Ruta Nonacs, in her book (pg 80) A Deeper Shade of Blue: A Woman’s Guide to Recognizing and Treating Depression in Her Childbearing Years, sums up the reason why infertility is a stressful experience for women as follows: “[Infertility] is one of the most stressful experiences for a woman.  Even the strongest and most resilient may experience depression when forced to ensure such significant demands on their emotional and physical resources…..Several recent research studies indicate that women who suffer from infertility are vulnerable to significant depression or anxiety: among women who undergo infertility treatment, it is estimated that about 25 percent to 30 percent suffer from clinical depression.”   

This is why I would suggest women going through IVF treatments to do everything they can do reduce their anxiety by seeing a therapist experienced with helping IVF patients, as well as giving yoga a try.   And for those who are pregnant–whether through IVF or naturally–you should seriously consider taking pregnancy yoga classes or follow pregnancy yoga DVDs in the privacy of your home.  Yoga will not only benefit you physically, it can help reduce anxiety levels.  After my next post on sleep, I will write on how anxiety levels are also detrimental to the fetus.