This Loss Could Be Any Parent’s Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Wrecking Ball versus Roar

*** This post was inspired by 2 songs, 2 experiences in the past 2 days (one in-person, one online),
and my dislike for fall.  ***

I HATE THE FALL.

One, since I was a kid, fall meant the end of summer, which meant I had to go back to school.  And I hated school.   The sentiment hasn’t worn out through the years.

Two, I don’t like cold weather and not being able to wear shorts anymore.  Cold weather dries my skin out.  The flu and other cold germs abound during the winter months.

Three, I don’t like short days in which all daylight hours are spent indoors, sitting at a desk at work.  You go to work, it’s dark.  You come home, it’s dark.

Four, I don’t like it when there is nothing green left but the evergreens.  Even the grass turns brown, as all the leaves fall and the trees become forlorn and bare.

Five, I don’t like grey skies.  I love it when the sky is blue and the sun is shining.ISL_autumn_2013

Okay, now don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy all things pumpkin — pumpkin picking (and hay rides and corn mazes too) at nearby farms, pumpkin latte, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins (you get the picture) — and the fall colors of red, yellow and orange are a sight to behold.  See, I even stopped to take this picture this morning.

As it is, I’m already not a happy camper (no, I don’t have SAD, or seasonal affective disorder….I just hate this time of year, in general), so right now I’m trying my best not to succumb to the wrecking ball (cue Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball song, the last song that was playing before arriving back at the house after a day full of running errands) that fall is threatening to be to the  Energizer® Bunny’s “takes a licking and keeps on ticking” mode I’ve adopted over the years, particularly ever since I finished my book.

This is where the accumulation of past experiences — low self esteem, dysfunctional relationships at home, moving so freaking much, racism, bullying, mean girls, gossiping, 24 years working for the same company and dealing with a variety of personalities (some of which were far from pleasant) and changing roles and responsibilities,  difficulties starting a family, childbirth complications, postpartum depression — has molded me into the person I am today.   I have come to realize, as a dear friend recently pointed out, that I am an “empath”  As such, I have recently realized how much I like to support others.  If I can help at least one person each day feel less alone in their experience, then it truly makes me happy.

Each day, with the time that I have commuting and before bedtime, I provide support to teens in a closed Facebook group called Stand for the Silent because I never received any support during my own teen years.  I also try to provide support to mothers in a closed Facebook group called Mama’s Comfort Camp because I didn’t receive much support during my postpartum period (and I certainly didn’t get much support during my postpartum depression experience, which is why I wrote my book and why I blog).  And I also provide support to colleagues at work because I’ve never had a mentor and was never fortunate enough to receive much advice/guidance during my career.  Things for me have always been challenging.  I always had to learn things the hard way (via trial by fire, or trial and error).  I truly hate seeing people struggle while growing up, as a mother, and in the workplace.  And I’ve recently vowed to make a difference for others in these situations.

Sometimes, like in the past few weeks, I feel burned out.  Supporting people everyday and having to deal with crap at work and around me, in general, can get tiring when I don’t get enough support myself.  With a full-time job and a daughter with daily homework (3rd grade and Chinese), that leaves very little time for myself, so keeping order in the house is left to be done on weekends.  Work is non-stop and stressful every single day and it doesn’t help that doing the best you can amounts to NOTHING other than personal satisfaction from knowing that you did your absolute best helping people at work and using the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired over the years.  Each day, I make the best out of a crappy situation.  Unfortunately, certain days are made worse  when nasty experiences  threaten to time travel me back to my younger, more naive days with people treating me with disrespect — yelling at me (yes, this happened to me on Thursday) — despite the fact that all I did was reach out to them for guidance.

It’s not just in a a work setting that people don’t play nice.  Life is one gigantic sandbox with grown adults acting like children.  This is where I remind myself that — no matter how nice you are, there will be those who don’t like you JUST BECAUSE….No reason….JUST BECAUSE.  That’s when you need to have enough sense to keep in mind that IT’S THEM, NOT YOU.  You’re not the one with the issue. They’re the one with some deep-rooted issue.  Nothing you do will make a difference, and you know what?  You shouldn’t have to.  This phenomenon traverses all age groups, races, religions, political parties, etc.  It’s a crying shame.  There seems to be one root cause:  jealousy (and a need to make themselves feel better in their actions/words that cause someone else to feel bad).

Anyway, I just whipped up my own e-card via Some ECards of the sign I would want to flash every. single. time someone does not like me for no reason at all….and behaves in a feline (being mean, gossips, excludes, looks down on) fashion.

ISL_someecard_them_not_you

Well, I’m a little too old for this nonsense.  Life is too short.  I realize all too well (and I’ve said this in my blog and my book) that it’s impossible to be friends with everyone.   But just know that there is no reason TO BE MEAN, TO GOSSIP, TO EXCLUDE, AND TO LOOK DOWN ON OTHERS.  Not unless you’re a troll (or just a superficial, mean person at heart), in which case, say hello to karma.  Because I do believe in it.  Also?  You might want to seek some help, cuz if you find satisfaction by making someone else miserable, then you have some serious underlying issues that need to be checked out by a professional, and I’m not kidding.

The fall may be coming and may be threatening to wreck my mood, but I’m going to keep on going in my Energizer® Bunny way.   I’m going to end this post with a video of Katy Perry’s “Roar.”  This song is a perfect companion to my motto “Hear me roar,” which is a call for others to join me that I say both at the beginning and end of my book.  I especially like the imagery at about 2:07 to 2:15 in Katy’s video.

Here is  my rendition of the lyrics from the song:

Take that, wrecking ball.
You may have threatened to knock me down,
But I’m going to stay standing,
Shaking the ground with the sound of my roar.

I didn’t come this far in my life to be so easily knocked down.
I’ve experienced enough in life to know that
I’m not going to let someone else dictate how I feel.
I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar!

If I Survived PPD, I Can Survive Most Anything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BE PROUD OF YOURSELF.

We Need Empathy and Anti-Bullying Programs in Every School, Not to Mention Make Our Mental Healthcare System a National Priority!

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

Today was a day that will go down in the history books as one of the worst school shootings in this country.  So many young children and school employees killed.  I write with a heavy heart.  I am praying for the families who have lost loved ones in today’s tragedy.  And I am praying for all the survivors who witnessed what happened.

It’s very coincidental that I have been planning to put up in the next day or so another post about bullying, teenage angst, empathy, and the state of our current school culture and what I believe we desperately need if we are to make a difference for our children.  They are our future.

The way it works for me is, as I come across articles in the news/blog posts that catch my interest, if I don’t have time to blog about it right away, I save them to my “Next Posts” folder to provide inspiration for future blog posts.  I have the following 6 links about bullying and empathy saved in that folder:

Onward to Change:

Support for Teens:

Educational Info:

Links to Resources:

  • Please refer to the Anti-bullying/Teen Resources links I list on the right side of my blog
  • 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 PPD blog
  • Start Empathy Facebook page

I’m writing this post to help me process the news that hit me as I left work today.  I had no idea this had even happened until after 3:00 pm today, hours after it took place, because I never had a chance to go onto the Internet, as it was a really busy day at work and no one at work brought it up…..not until a colleague mentioned it to me shortly before I was supposed to leave the office for the weekend.

I posted this on my Facebook timeline on my way home from work:

We really need to do something that will end these senseless killings. More mental health programs, for one. More empathy programs in schools too. In all school systems, for all school-aged children. I think if we made these changes, we have a better shot at making a difference.

It will take a few days for the investigation to determine the circumstances that led to this tragedy.  But seeing how it happened in a school, like so many of the other school massacres that took place in the past decade, I am pretty certain that it’s issues stemming from school days/environment that drove the shooter to choose this school as the backdrop for seeking vengeance or playing out whatever was going on his mind, spurred on by what could have been years of bullying and/or other emotionally scarring incidents that occurred in school.

I cannot even begin to imagine what the families who lost their children are going through.  Tears welled up in my eyes during my commute home and before, during and after dinner with my family.  And now I sit here with a lump in my throat. And then I see my news feed show posts and links to blog posts criticizing anyone who would express any opinions on the tragedy.  In all honesty, I’m not writing this post out of disrespect for those who were senselessly killed today or their families now grieving.   I am so sad, I had to get my thoughts out.

I suffered from postpartum depression (PPD), and now I’m a PPD advocate.  I wasn’t about to let my experience merely fade away with my recovery.  I want to share my story and try to help others, to make a difference for other moms by making them feel less alone in their experience and help empower them with knowledge so they can understand why it happens so they feel less guilty and more empowered to recognize symptoms and know their treatment options.  I want to help spread awareness and stomp out the stigma associated with mental health issues (not just maternal).  Bottom line, I’m trying to prevent other moms from suffering the way that I had suffered.

Back during my school days, I was a victim of prejudism and bullying, and now I’m an anti-bullying advocate.  I want to do what I can to make a difference for children and teenagers who feel alone in their experience, lack self esteem, and don’t know where to go for support–all of which describes the nightmare of my teenage years, from the time I started 7th grade until I left for college.  Bottom line, I’m trying to prevent other youth from suffering the way that I had suffered.

As I conclude this post, I just wanted to ask that we all hold our loved ones closer as we struggle to process this senseless tragedy.   If you’re wondering, like I’m wondering, how we can put an end to tragic suicides and shootings in our schools, ask yourselves:

  • Do we want to end bullying and bullycides?  If so, then realize we have the power to make a difference….don’t just continue to sit there and complain about the incidents of bullying and bullycide. Let’s work within our communities to come up with ways to prevent these incidents from happening.  We can’t wait for schools to do it because schools are dependent on budgets, and as we all know, budgets now are being cut down to the lowest levels ever.  We have to think outside the box.  Where it concerns the safety of our children, we can no longer tolerate the “Oh, but we can’t establish anti-bullying / empathy programs because it will cost us money that we don’t have” attitudes we’ve had for years.  If it takes state anti-bullying laws to be passed, like in New Jersey, then so be it.  If state laws are not passed, then we need to work with the Board of Education and district schools to incorporate empathy in each school’s curriculum and/or establish empathy programs for all school-age children from Kindergarten through 12th grade.
  • Do we teach our kids to treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves?   If so, then be a positive role model and lead by example.  Model empathy in our daily interactions with others.   Have your child be kind to and accepting of his/her fellow students, and avoid excluding others because that, after all, is a form of bullying.  Encourage him/her to stand up for others who are being bullied, rather than acting as merely a bystander.
  • Do we want to help our children/teens find the right help/support when we realize they are experiencing challenges in school and/or emotional/behavioral issues (e.g., lack of self esteem, depression, cutting, eating disorders)?   If so, then we need to find the right resources (i.e., counseling, mental health professionals, online support) for him/her as soon as possible.  Do not assume that it must just be some passing phase/part of growing up, being in denial that your child may need such help.  DO NOT WAIT and think that things will resolve on their own because they WON’T.  Put aside any qualms about stigma relating to mental health issues, as it’s not going to help your child.

We need to strive to make our schools safe for our children and for the staff to whom we entrust the care of our children.  In the words of our President: “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”    Granted, we are no doubt in need of stricter regulations that will help prevent the wrong people from getting access to guns.  But much more importantly, 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 in 2010).  It’s a quick read and  does a very good job summarizing today’s state of affairs.  This article I just stumbled across on Alternet.com titled “In the Wake of Another Mass Shooting, Let’s Talk About America’s Dangerously Gutted Mental Healthcare System,” by Lynn Stuart Parramore is also a must-read.

WE NEED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE!   Or we are going to continue to see bullying and cyberbullying–and unfortunately shootings–claiming the lives of innocent young people.

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.

I Am Titanium

I’ve loved David Guetta’s song Titanium since the first time I heard it on the radio several weeks ago.  And today I decided I had to blog about it.  Why?  Because the lyrics hit so, so close to home for me.  And the music (instrumentals by David Guetta, vocals sung beautifully and hauntingly by Sia) is awesome too!

This is my interpretation of the song………

You can speak as loud as you want, but I can’t hear you.
You can criticize me all you want, but all your words just ricochet.
Why?  Because I’m bulletproof.
You can try to shoot me down, but I will keep on getting up.
You can fire away at me with your words, but I won’t fall.
Why? Because I’m titanium.
You can cut me down with your mean words, but it’s you who have more to lose.
Why? Because sticks and stones may break my bones and words will never hurt me.
You are just wasting your time, and you will one day look back and realize what you did was wrong.
Oh?  And no one likes bullies.

I appreciate the music and David Guetta’s lyrics….but not necessarily the official video.  After I watched it a few times, I felt the ending leaves people hanging at the end.  Try as I might, I couldn’t feel positive about the ending.   What happens to the kid and the SWAT team?  The kid in the beginning is in a school setting, coming to after what appears to be a blast in the hallway.  When I watched it for the first time, I’m like, okay, was this a kid that was bullied?  I realize this video is about inner strength, but the whole supernatural powers theme is a bit of a stretch.  With these wonderful lyrics, Guetta could have made it all about bullying and inner strength, teaching youth–at a time that bullying is so much in the spotlight–that you ARE strong and you WON’T let the bully–despite all his attempts to exert dominance–get his jollies by making you feel like crap.

And it’s for that reason that I am posting a link to the YouTube video with the real lyrics rather than the official Titanium video.

Now, looking back at my teenage years, I wish I had had access to these lyrics and the many resources that exist for teenagers today.  Teenagers who, as I had blogged about in past posts, struggle with their self esteem, with other kids saying mean things, behaving meanly, isolating, backstabbing, laughing at you, and gossiping.  Those days sucked for me.  And to those who stumble on this blog post and are in the same boat, please remember that NOT ALL people out there are that way.  There are resources to help you deal with what is troubling you.

And just remember, you are MUCH BETTER than they are.  You have the ability to be strong.  Just like the song lyrics say, you can walk away/ignore them.  No matter what they say or do, you will stay strong.  Never mind what nasty things others people say.  It’s not you, it’s them.  They will eventually learn that what they did was wrong.

Those of you who have followed my blog know that I’ve blogged about teenagers being at their most vulnerable emotionally, adjusting to their physical/hormonal changes and having to cope with self esteem issues.  Depression rates climb in teen years.  For girls, depression means a greater risk for postpartum depression (PPD) down the road.  This is so important and I hope one day will be understood by the general population.  With understanding will come a reduction in the number of moms suffering from PPD and the stigma associated with maternal mental health issues.

121Help.Me – A 24/7 Youth Helpline

Facebook can be such a great resource, let me tell you.  Today, I saw a post from Stand for the Silent, which I had heard about from watching the Bully movie. The post announced this 24/7 helpline, 121help.me (Call 1-855-201-2121 (toll free) that is available for youth in need of someone non-judgmental to talk to, someone who will listen and provide some counseling over the phone.  Note that this is not meant to be a crisis/suicide hotline (for emergency situations, dial 911).  Calls at 121help.me are answered by counselors affiliated with the North American Alliance of Child Helplines.

Stand for the Silent is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2010 by a group of students from the Oklahoma State University after they heard the story of Kirk and Laura Smalley’s son Ty Field-Smalley.  At the age of eleven, Ty took his own life after being suspended from school for retaliating against a kid that was bullying him for over two years.  Ty’s story was one of those featured in the Bully movie.

I’m thankful for resources such as this that are available to help youth that may feel like they have no one they can talk to about their feelings.  Had I known about this resource when I was a teenager, I more than likely would have called this helpline.  I know, since I’ve been through the angst that comes with the isolating experience of adolescence–especially if you don’t have many friends–that having support is crucial.  If I didn’t have the Chinese teen club and Chinese church that I belonged to at that time–despite the fact that I didn’t quite feel like I fit in with those groups either (both groups were not made up of kids from my high school)–my loneliness might have completely taken over me.  As I mentioned in prior posts, I had no real friends in the high school I attended.  I was constantly fighting with my parents and one of my brothers.  I had no other relatives that lived near me or who were in a position to be of any help.  There might have been a couple of individuals that I sort of confided in about what I was going through, but I could only divulge so much to them.  What I needed was to talk to someone non-judgmental and neutral….someone who didn’t really know me.  Someone I felt comfortable confiding in, without that person potentially using the info to my detriment later on (as I learned that, unfortunately, girls tend to be backstabbers and gossipers).

If you are a teen that is going through a challenging point in your life, please remember that it is very important to find an outlet for your emotions.  Whether it be talking to a non-judgmental individual or journaling (writing thoughts down)…..you have to let it out.  Journaling (or even blogging) can be very therapeutic.  In the process of blogging or following a Facebook support page like Stand for the Silent, you will come across others who are in similar situations, so you will see that you are far from alone in your experience.   You will see that there are many good and caring individuals out there.  You will see others, like me, who have been where you are and have survived and have used their past experiences to help others by increasing awareness of the importance of resources like this for our youth, as well as starting up anti-bullying initiatives or support pages for teens.

My personal wish is to see more support services for teenage girls, as I feel they go through so much physiologically (and emotionally as a consequence) with the hormonal changes that come with the onset of menstruation and certain behaviors/emotions (aggression, moodiness, low self esteem, eating disorders from wanting to appear attractive, mood disorders like depression).  See my past post on why it’s so important to educate girls early of the physiological changes they will go through and the difference between premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).  The more support services and awareness, the less stigma and struggling through these physiologically- and emotionally-challenged years there will be among teenage girls….and the less risk there is for postpartum depression (PPD) onset down the road, as a history of depression is a risk factor for PPD.  It’s a vicious cycle I talk about in my book that we need to address early on.  Being proactive, rather than reactive (waiting til you’ve become depressed to do something).  If we were successful in doing this (along with seeing a growth in the numbers and types of postpartum support services), I fervently believe we will see a reduction in numbers of mothers suffering from PPD.

I want to see less suffering, more empathy, and more standing up for the silent (those that are being bullied…and I’m not solely referring to schools as the backdrop because bullying happens among adults at work too).   There is really no excuse for us not to achieve these if we put our minds to it!

An Update to My Last Post….

Just a brief check-in today, as I’m very, very tired. This week has been a stressful one at work.  I’ve also had a couple other personal matters that are causing me quite a bit of anxiety.  I am doing the best I can to keep the anxiety under control. On top of that, I’ve had post-mono and strep (I don’t remember if I mentioned I had them simultaneously since the first week of December) esophagus condition that seems to be lingering forever.  Feels like some sort of inflammation from the back of my throat down to my chest.  I’m on medication for that.  Then, over the weekend, my slowly deteriorating right elbow suddenly became 10x more painful than before, such that I had to see my chiro for the past couple of nights.  He informed me that I had tendonitis.  I love this chiro because the back/neck/arm numbness issues I used to have were successfully treated by him.  For my elbow, he used accupressure, electromuscular stimulation, and heating pad.  Got a couple more visits to go.  So far, so good.  I feel so much better now than a few days ago, that’s for sure!

Anyway, I will have a couple of posts up within the week.  The purpose of my brief check-in today is to point out that I added 2 drawings to my last post.  Please check them out!

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:

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!