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:

The #1 Killer of Teen Girls Worldwide

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • societal expectations
  • disempowerment
  • marginalization

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts of Suicide and the Taboo of Discussing It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Depression and Teen Suicides….It WILL Get Better

I’m on a real roll right now with 3 blog posts in < 1 week!    Well, what has spurred me to post today is an article titled “Experts fear copycat suicides after bullying cases” by Geoff Mulvihilli (AP) that I came across today concerning the recent teen suicides….6 since Tyler Clementi’s suicide on September 22, 2010.  I am digressing from postpartum depression in that I am blogging about teen suicides, though suicides do occur in cases of postpartum mood disorders (PMDs) as well.   I did blog about teen suicide once before, and in that post, I wrote about what makes girls more prone to depression once they hit puberty.

The circumstances that led to Tyler’s suicide were disturbing, despicable and disgraceful.  The lives of those involved will never be the same, ever.  The good that will come out of Tyler’s story is the realization that something must be done to put an end to bullying that has always occurred among our youth but its effect has become all the more deadly thanks to the Internet and other social media tools, whether it be live video streams (as in Tyler’s case), chat rooms, texting, or Twitter.  President Obama and celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres have made public appeals.  The Trevor Project’s “It Gets Better” campaign has been very active in the past couple of months in reaching out to teens and providing them with resources and hope.   States that hadn’t previously had anti-bullying laws have since either put them into place or are in the process of putting them in place.  There are now only 5 states with no anti-bullying laws.  Click here for state-specific legislative details. 

Click here for a Photo Essay of the victims of bullying just from this past year.  If these pictures don’t make you want to try to help stop bullying, I don’t know what will.  Having been a victim of bullying, you bet I will do whatever I can to help spread awareness and join any campaigns against bullying.  From the time my daughter reaches first grade until she graduates from high school, I will be involved in anti-bullying matters at her school.  And if there isn’t any anti-bullying policy in place in her school when she’s there–or at the very least counselors adequately trained to recognize signs of depression and know what to do when there is bullying going on–I sure as heck will do what I can to make sure one is put in place.

Per the article, Laura McGinnis, spokeswoman for The Trevor Project, said that her group’s crisis hotline has seen a 75% increase in calls and an increase in requests from schools and community leaders for “survival kits” since Tyler’s death.  I’d like to highlight what Ms. McGinnis said with respect to–and this applies to all individuals who are troubled and in need of someone to talk to–crisis intervention:

“It’s important for people who are feeling suicidal to know where to turn to for help, whether it’s a hot line, a friend or a hospital.  There are people out there who can help you, who are willing to listen.”

Says Ann Haas, director of prevention programs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

“If youth are struggling with depression, the impact of bullying can be quite different than if they’re otherwise emotionally healthy.”

And this, folks, is the one very big distinguishing factor between how different teens handle situations like bullying, teenage angst and/or a dysfunctional family.  When I saw a Facebook comment a few weeks ago from one of my “friends” who happens to be in high school how he could never, ever feel down enough to hurt or kill himself despite all that he had to put up with in high school, so what’s up with the new trend of teens killing themselves instead of dealing with their problems, I had to speak up.  I basically said that one who has never suffered from depression will never understand what it’s like to be depressed–to feel so alone, worthless, and desperate enough to want to end it all.   Just like this article says, it’s not just one factor (i.e., bullying) that may lead an individual to thoughts of suicide.   There is a whole lot more to it.  Personality (i.e., self esteem), the way a person was brought up to deal with issues, and support system among family/friends (or lack thereof) all have a lot to do with it.  People need to open their eyes to see when someone in their lives isn’t himself or herself, could use someone to talk to and provide a shoulder to lean on, and needs a hotline/warmline and/or professional help.

I am going to now draw a parallel with PPD here.  Moms who have never had a PMD will never understand what it’s like to have a PMD.  That’s a fair statement to make, but it shouldn’t keep people from becoming educated.  From opening their eyes.  From forgetting the dumb stigma that’s associated with depression, especially depression occurring after childbirth.  From forgetting the even dumber motherhood myths.  From recognizing when something is not right with a new mom and helping her to seek professional help.   From recognizing when a call to 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is needed.

What we all need to do is to become educated on symptoms of depression in the people in our lives and know what to do to help.   Everyone deserves help and support.  With the right help and support, any situation that’s troubling an individual can and WILL pass.  As the Trevor Project motto goes “It Gets Better”…..it really does.

Here are some important Suicide Prevention Resources:

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!

Never Assume that All is Blissful for the New Mom….Preventable Tragedies

If you have been following my blog, you may have read my previous post from April 9, 2009 titled “Pain, Sadness Hiding Behind Smiles….Never Assume and Think That All is Blissful for the New Mom.” 

Today, February 27, 2010 marks the second anniversary of the tragic suicide of Joseph Raso’s daughter, Crystal, four months after she gave birth to her second child.  I’d written about this sad, sad story last April when I first heard about it through Susan Stone’s blog, that included Joseph’s touching letter about what happened.  

Here’s a link to a very moving piece written by my friend Marcie Ramirez.  And click on the video montage that fellow PPD blogger Lauren Hale sent me, which Joseph sent her just a couple days ago.  

I urge you to please do the following:

  • Help Joseph’s efforts to spread awareness about PPD by sharing this story and the video montage with as many people as possible, particularly expectant/new parents. 
  • Become knowledgeable about PPD, including its risk factors and symptoms (and how to distinguish from the blues).  If you have a friend, relative, neighbor or co-worker that just had a baby, ask her how she REALLY feels.  Offer her your emotional and/or practical support.   From what you know about her, including whether she has been particularly stressed/concerned about anything recently and whether she had any pregnancy/childbirth complications, if you get any sense that all is not well (i.e., she is not able to sleep even when the baby sleeps, she is overly anxious), encourage her to tell the truth about her thoughts and feelings.  Print out my post detailing PPD symptoms and the difference between the blues, and show it to her.   This way, if she is in fact suffering from PPD, she will be less likely to try to hide how she is REALLY feeling.  Knowing she is not alone in her experience, there is no reason to feel any shame or guilt, and she will get better as long as she seeks treatment….such knowledge can decrease the likelihood that feelings of hopelessness and helplessness will take over and make her think that the only way to escape her pain is by taking her own life.

For more information, including the email Joseph sent to Lauren, click here.  

If you are struggling with a postpartum mood disorder, you can:

  • Contact the Postpartum Support International (PSI) warmline* at 1.800.944.4PPD.
  • Go to the PSI website for a list of coordinators for each state who can provide referrals to those who specialize in treating PPD in your area.

* Some states offer toll-free phone (either hot or warm) lines.  Hotlines operate 24/7 and can serve callers in different languages and are staffed by licensed mental health professionals.  For example, New Jersey has a hotline (800.328.3838).  Warmlines don’t operate on a 24/7 basis and are staffed by volunteers.