8 Things I Want People To Know about Postpartum Psychosis

8 Things Postpartum Psychosis

Photo credit: Lauren Gay Photography – http://laurengay.com


I love all the media attention these past few weeks on postpartum depression. It’s so important for us to keep these conversations going so that more women and families understand that they are not alone and that it’s okay to reach out for help because treatment works. It’s wonderful to see celebrities like Hayden Panettiere, Drew Barrymore, and Alanis Morissette opening up about their stories because when people we admire, women we assume have it all together, open up and show us their struggles, we pay attention.

I’m just a mom, with a 5-year old little man, who wants to prove to the world that our struggles don’t define us. They only provide us with opportunities to make a difference in the world. I’m beginning to work on explaining this to him every chance I get.

- from a post I wrote dated Sept 19, 2013

We also need to be talking about postpartum psychosis. I was diagnosed with PPP a month after my first child was born, and suffered from antenatal psychosis (psychosis during pregnancy) during my second pregnancy. Both times I had been avoiding my medication for bipolar disorder because I didn’t want to expose the baby to the risks.

I want to share what I’ve learned. Maybe then, more people will understand postpartum psychosis the way they’re beginning to understand PPD, and the women and families who experience it will feel as supported as those who go through postpartum depression.

      1. Women who experience PPP are NOT monsters. Yes, it’s true that untreated PPP can lead to infanticide, but that doesn’t mean it’s the mother’s fault. She was sick and needed treatment, and the more we’re able to identify the symptoms and the sooner she’s able to get treatment, the chances of her actually harming her baby can be avoided all together.
      2. We can be good at hiding the onset of PPP. Having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years before I had my first child, I knew what the beginning of a manic episode felt like. I was euphoric, energized despite the severe lack of sleep, and highly social, planning playdates when obviously I should have instead been resting. I hid my initial symptoms for fear of having my son taken from me. I was terrified of failing as a mom.
      3. Family and spouses/partners are usually the first to know something is wrong. If it weren’t for my husband, who knows what could have happened. The morning my husband called 911 to have me hospitalized, I woke at 5am after having barely slept the night before due to the baby’s feeding schedule and my extreme mania. I was in the kitchen rearranging the items in our cabinets. My speech was pressured (had so many things to tell my husband but the words wouldn’t come out fast enough), and what I was able to verbalize wasn’t making any sense. He recognized these symptoms from my two previous manic episodes years before, combined with how little sleep I was getting, and immediately called 911.
      4. Sometimes the woman can’t even see how badly she needs help. Seeking help for psychosis symptoms is very different than seeking help for postpartum depression. Usually it is not the woman herself who seeks treatment, but the spouse/partner or family member who initiates treatment through hospitalization. After the birth of my first and during my second pregnancy, I became so ill that I couldn’t realize exactly how far gone I was. It was a gradual process, but once I reached a certain level of mania, the chaos in my brain took over and catapulted me into psychosis and it was up to those around me to find a way to bring me back. Involuntary commitment was what I needed both times.
      5. It can be difficult to admit symptoms. Some women have thoughts of harming their children, and some of them act on those violent thoughts. Stories like the one of Andrea Yates might make women afraid of reaching out for help for fear of being looked down upon by friends or family members. I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t have those intrusive thoughts, but it was still incredibly difficult for me to admit that I needed help.
      6. Although rare, there are predicting factors, and PPP can be prevented. Postpartum psychosis is much less common than postpartum depression. Although there are underlying conditions which can predispose a woman to developing postpartum psychosis, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder being the main factor, any pregnant woman is potentially at risk. Which is why we need to raise awareness around PPP the same way we are raising awareness around PPD.
      7. Breastfeeding isn’t the only way to feed a newborn. I put tremendous pressure on myself to breastfeed my first child. “Breast is best” was everywhere I turned during my pregnancy and I correlated my ability to feed my child from my body with how successful I was as a new mom. Not only was this wrong, it was incredibly unhealthy. With my second child, we had a plan to bottle-fed with formula from the start, which led to a much more enjoyable postpartum period as compared to my first month of new motherhood breastfeeding my son.
      8. Moms who experience PPP are good moms, too. If I would have known that experiencing this illness was not my fault, and that there were other moms out there who also had to be hospitalized following the births of their babies, it would have been a little easier. Which is why I share my story. If even just one person finds my story and she’s able to get help sooner rather than later, it’s all worth it.

A Weekend At Home

This is going to be a long, boring post. Bear with me. I feel the need to justify my blogging absence by writing it all out. If only for myself.

It’s been a busy couple of months in our household. At the end of August, Ben and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary surrounded by our friends and family. It just happened to coincide perfectly with the summer house concert we had booked with independent artist and now friend of ours, Shannon Curtis. The evening was the perfect way to mark our special day. Shannon’s music was simply beautiful and she played under the big oak tree next to our house while the crickets chirped and the lights that Ben strung twinkled. My only regret is not taking more pictures, but I am glad I remembered to stay present and in the moment. It was a magical night to remember.

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The kids started school in the weeks that followed and I was busy helping our New York City team prep for their October show. The first weekend in September, my brother and I surprised my mom in Florida for her 65th Birthday. The look on her face was priceless when we both walked in the door, but lucky for her I decided not to Periscope or even photograph the surprise since she was still in her pajamas. You’re welcome, mom. Instead we have a photo of us wearing bibs. I loved getting to see my Grandma, too, since I hadn’t seen her since February which felt like so long ago.









The second weekend in September Wear Your Label, a conscious clothing company out of Canada, invited me to emcee their fashion show at New York Fashion Week in New York City. The timing couldn’t have been better, since that was the same weekend our New York City cast was getting together for the first time and I was able to attend and meet everyone. It was an awesome {albeit fast-paced} weekend. I loved meeting Kaylee and Kyle {the Co-Founders of Wear Your Label} and look forward to working with them in the future on another mental health awareness event.


The third weekend of September was the Northern Virginia NAMI {National Alliance on Mental Illness} walk. Anne Marie and I hosted a This Is My Brave table and got to talk with lots of attendees about our organization and what we do. We sold a bunch of Brave tees and brave beads, and our cast member Laurie was there to help us and catch up. The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful, to top it off.


The last weekend of September I was invited to the DBSA {Depression Bipolar Support Alliance} annual conference in Chicago to present during the Peer Showcase night, the first evening of the conference. I was joined by Canadian comedian David Granier of Stand Up for Mental Health, and my friend, singer/songwriter Shannon Curtis. We kicked off the conference with storytelling, comedy and music, and everyone had a lovely evening. The weekend was full of incredible speakers: Dese’Rae Stage of Live Thru This, Mariel Hemingway, and Andrew Solomon. I met so many amazing, like-minded people, and I felt at home.


Just this past weekend, on October 4th, This Is My Brave had our first show in New York City. I can’t even begin to describe how proud I am of our cast and production team. I was beaming from the moment the curtain went up until I closed my eyes to fall asleep that night, exhausted with the joy of what they had accomplished.


My parents flew in from Florida to spend the weekend with me and see the show. Despite the threats from Hurricane Joaquin, we made it. We drove to Long Island on Friday to see my Uncle Marty and his partner Ralph, and had a great time catching up with them before heading into the city on Saturday. I was able to attend the second half of rehearsal on Saturday, and then spent the rest of the day and evening getting last-minute details ready for the show. Sunday morning, my dad and I went to the Today Show with signs to try to get some free publicity. The show touched me on so many levels and I loved seeing and hearing how the event impacted all who attended. Monday was my dad’s birthday, and I am so thankful I got to celebrate it with him and my mom over a lovely dinner after the show. Living over a thousand miles apart makes me so grateful for the moments we get to spend together.

This weekend I was supposed to host a table at the AFSP {American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – there will be a quiz on all the mental health organization acronyms at the end!} community walk in DC, but after being in DC on Friday for the International Bipolar Foundation breakfast, I knew I needed a day off. That, and realizing the tornado inside of our house was screaming to be tamed, I made the decision to take this weekend to re-group, clean and spend time at home with my family.

I spent yesterday attacking one room at a time with a duster, the vacuum, and the desire to give everyone a fresh, clean start as we tumble into autumn. As I cleaned, I listened to Jenny Lawson’s new book, Furiously Happy, and found myself having to stop what I was doing and tweet out quotes it was so good. It made me want to get serious about writing my own memoir about living with bipolar, which is something I desperately want to do someday. But at the moment my focus is on This Is My Brave, our seventh and final show of this year {LA’s book launch event for Amy Ferris’ Shades of Blue on November 19th! Details coming this week!} and planning for 2016.

I’m not going to lie. These past few months have been exhausting. But at the same time, they are what fill me up. It’s hard to be away from my family, but I return to them more complete. It’s an unbelievable feeling to know in your heart that you’ve found your life’s calling, and I don’t take it for granted. Whenever someone tells me how much my work touches them and it’s so wonderful I’m helping so many people, I am overwhelmed. All I ever wanted to do was encourage people to be open and share their stories. It’s only because people believed in me that this work is able to touch so many. I am so grateful people had confidence in my vision.

I can’t help but let my insecurities creep in from time to time. Typically when I hear about a suicide or that someone I know is struggling with their own mental health. I feel so helpless, even though I’ve battled similar demons. Why can’t I find the right words? Why can’t I be a better friend? Why can’t I make a bigger difference, help more people, stop the suffering?

I know it has to do with the issue of being enough and accepting that I am enough, and these are things I’m working on. This is not a plea for pity or praise. I’m just putting it out there because I want to be real, and I want my readers to know that I still have plenty of things I’m working on. Just because I’ve found stability with my mental health doesn’t mean my life is perfect. If only it were that easy. Anne Marie reminds me nearly every week that we’ve accomplished a great deal in our first two years, and I know she is right. I know that I want This Is My Brave to grow slowly and sustainably, staying true to our mission of ending stigma through storytelling, which is exactly what we’re doing.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey, especially my husband, parents and in-laws who are always willing to jump in and help with the kids so that I can attend meetings, conferences, and special events. I wouldn’t be on this journey if it weren’t for my friends cheering me on, my readers continuously reaching out to tell me how much they appreciate me being open about my story, and my growing This Is My Brave family for contributing to this dream. Sometimes it doesn’t feel real, like when I saw myself on the cover of Bipolar Hope Magazine this week. I am full of gratitude for this life.


Happy Holiday weekend, friends. Thanks for being on this journey with me.

Conversations on heaven

Rare Bird Anna Whiston-Donaldson book review

We’re in the midst of a season of change. I’m doing what I can to hold onto summer, while simultaneously longing for fall to begin already. I’m ready for brisk breezes, crispy leaves crunching under my Uggs as I walk to the bus stop to pick up my now-First Grader from another day at school, preschooler in tow.

With only a handful of potential pool days left, I piled the kids in the car last week for a couple of hours at our neighborhood pool before dinnertime. The air was warm, I had the radio on, and the kids were carrying on their own little conversation in the backseat while I sang along to a country pop tune. As the song came to an end, Vivian piped up and caught me off guard with a serious question.

“When are we going to die, Mommy?”

Whoa. Where did this come from? Had that last song mentioned dying as some country songs do?

Before I could even address her curiosity, her brother dove into his own explanation.

“When God calls you back to heaven, Vivi. He’s the only person who knows when we’ll die.”

Wow. Are my four and six year olds really discussing death?

And before I could ask him where he had learned this bit of wisdom, I remembered.

I remembered how I told them about Anna’s son Jack and his accident when they saw me reading Rare Bird last year. God called Jack home to heaven four years ago.

No one knows how much time we have. There are no guarantees.

I am not an intensely religious person, although I do believe in God and I believe there is a heaven. I do believe there is another phase after our lives here. I am hopeful I’ll meet all the people I’ve loved through life in heaven eventually. My heart tells me this place we’re in now is just the preparation for what’s next.

Rare Bird taught me so many things, and I truly feel it’s a book that everyone should read for the wisdom Anna shares within its pages. We never know when life will throw us a curve ball. Something that may knock us down so hard that we fear we may never be able to get back up. And yet, Anna did just that, and continues to face each day with grace and love and kindness.

I constantly think about life and death, and question whether I’m making the most of my time. I have my good days and bad days, like everyone else. I think as long as we love deeply and treat every day as the true gift it is, we’re living a good life.

Jack lived a very good life. Much too short, but he’s home now. In heaven with God. And as Anna says in this new video about the book, it’s not as far away as she had thought.

Rare Bird comes out in paperback in a week, but you can pre-order it on Amazon now.

Sending love to Anna, Tim and Margaret, this week and always. Thinking of Jack and the memories {and God winks} he blessed them with, some of which are described within the pages of Rare Bird.

Follow Anna’s blog: AnInchOfGray, her Facebook page for the book, and her author page for info on readings and events.

Bringing Mental Illness into the Light


Rejection hurts. It stings my heart and crushes my soul. When it happens more than I can count on one hand in a matter of three days, well, it makes for a shitty week. Makes me wonder if it’s worth all the effort.

This morning I unconsciously pulled a teeshirt out of my dresser drawer. I was immediately reminded of what drives me as I pulled the shirt over my head, stared at my reflection in the mirror. What pushes me to continue on through the no’s, the unreturned phone calls, the doubts in my mind.

I’ve heard these doubts whispering in my head before. They were gossiping amongst themselves, loud enough for me to overhear, when we launched our Kickstarter in 2013. Even when we surpassed our goal, they still kept on chattering through our auditions, rehearsals, right up until I walked on stage with my cast for our debut show. Once our cast took to the podium, one by one, we finally silenced those doubts.

So they’ve returned, and I’m not surprised. I have to once again focus on our mission, why we came together to raise our voices for the greater good.

The gray tee with maroon block letters I was wearing today is one of my biggest reminders. VIRGINIA TECH. We will never forget.

I often wonder what would have happened if one person would have been courageous enough to have been the net that could have prevented the awful tragedy of April 16, 2007. One person reaching out. One person noticing. One person providing help.

I know it’s so much more complicated than that, believe me.

I remember when the news broke, where I was, what I was doing. Shaking. On the phone with my brother, a VT alum. Then my husband,  also an alum. Staring at the TV in disbelief.

The power of This Is My Brave lies in the vulnerability of the people who decide to stand up on stage and tell their story through a microphone, or publish their words to our community’s blog. We’ve been through the unthinkable. But we’ve made it to the other side. We’re stronger, better equipped to continue the fight. Ready to make a difference.

We all have our struggles in life. What if, instead of pushing those issues and problems and fear of being judged down deep inside of us, we made a bold move and opened up?

I used to be afraid of people finding out that I have bipolar disorder. But ever since I stopped hiding, I’ve noticed something huge. The vast majority of the time, the person on the other end of the conversation says, “me too.” Or, “someone close to me is suffering from depression,” or “my mom/dad/brother/sister/aunt/cousin/etc./etc./etc. has a mental illness.”

It’s everywhere.

Which is why I won’t give up. I won’t stop talking about mental illness because we’re all affected by it. And I want to change lives by continuing to bring true stories into the light. If just one person is helped by this work, it’s all worth it.

Move over insecurity, I have important work to do.