The Relief In Finding Postpartum Progress

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I don’t remember exactly when I found Postpartum Progress and Katherine Stone, but it was probably during my son’s naptime in late 2008. I was googling “postpartum psychosis,” desperate to find someone who could tell me I wasn’t a monster because of what had happened to me. My mind was still raw, my emotions fragile. I was scared. What would people think of me when they found out? Are my friends going to turn their backs on me? Am I ever going to be able to be a good mom to this beautiful baby?

In the back of my mind I couldn’t help but remember the story plastered over the news during the summer I graduated college (2001) and how the mom who was so severely sick from postpartum psychosis that she committed an unthinkable act and her five children were gone in an instant. We shared the same diagnosis, and yet I still had to search. If I looked hard enough, knew I’d find what I was looking for.

Postpartum Progress was one of the first websites generated from my search. Once the blog came onto my radar screen, I knew I had found the answers I was seeking. The community Katherine had built reassured me that:

  • No matter how isolating it felt at the time, I was not alone in what I was going through.
  • With proper treatment and support I could recover and lead a successful, fulfilling life.
  • There were thousands of other women across the globe who wanted to talk about postpartum mood disorders in order to break down the stigma.
  • My story was important and I should share it to help other women and families.

Having lost complete touch with reality for several days, being forced into the hospital to get the treatment I needed in order to bring me back, and missing out on a week of my newborn’s life is enough to make any woman doubt her abilities as a mother. Especially a mother living with a mental illness.

I had been expecting postpartum depression to deplete my new mama energy and excitement. I was prepared for the baby blues which never came. I had read all the literature on PPD in the pregnancy magazines and pamphlets in my OB’s office. Several times.

With my diagnosis of bipolar type 1 in the spring of 2006, I should have anticipated the onset of psychosis after the birth of my first child in September of 2008. Especially given to the teeny amount of sleep I was (barely) surviving on during those four weeks when I was trying my hardest to be a breastfeeding mom. I should’ve known. I should’ve been ready. But I wasn’t listening when my psychiatrist said we needed to have a plan for the inevitable and instead was left beating myself up over what happened until I found Postpartum Progress.

I spent many a naptime reading the blogs of the women who were featured writers on the site. Each time I read a new post, I felt my spirits lift a bit, the weight on my shoulders growing a little lighter. Eventually I found the courage to start talking more openly about my own mental health with my close friends.

Katherine showed me the beauty in bearing our scars to show other mamas we’re still here. We’re making it because we have each other and because we want to change society’s perception of maternal mental illness.

I applaud Katherine Stone and Postpartum Progress for the incredible work they’ve done over the past ten years. Because of the blood, sweat and tears Katherine and her volunteers have poured into the organization, they have been able to offer the following amazing resources to mothers and families seeking support and information about postpartum mood disorders:

  • PostpartumProgress.com – the most widely read blog in the world of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
  • “Plain Mama English” guides to understanding postpartum mood disorders – lists of symptoms for the various PPMDs written in language moms can use to recognize whether something is wrong.
  • Climb Out of the Darkness – Postpartum Progress’s annual worldwide fundraiser, raising awareness for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
  • Mother’s Day Rally for Mental Health – held on Mother’s Day each year, contributors post letters to new mothers – one an hour for the entire 24 hours of Mother’s Day – to let moms who are struggling know that they can and will get through a PPMD.
  • Private Peer Support Forum – a safe place for moms who are not yet ready to talk publicly.

I am in awe of everything Katherine has done for the good of all moms who experience postpartum mood disorders and I am so very grateful for her passion which fuels Postpartum Progress. In her I found the relief I so desperately sought out. The beauty in sharing my story to help others which led me to where I am today. Thank you so very much, Katherine!

Happy 10-year Anniversary, Postpartum Progress!!!

A Conversation on Ditching Perfectionism

Back in May, I met Sarah Bagley when she attended This Is My Brave. Like I had in 2013, Sarah had auditioned for Listen to your Mother DC this year, but her essay wasn’t selected. She did, however, make the cast of Listen To Your Mother Baltimore, and although I had traveled to the Baltimore show, I missed her performance live since I severely underestimated the time it would take to drive there. (My bad. I had thought the show was in downtown Baltimore when in reality it was in Towson, which is quite a ways further.) The good news is that I’ll get to watch her performance on YouTube when LTYM releases the videos of all the performances in all 32 cities! (Amazing.)

Sarah invited me to be a guest on her podcast, where she talks with people about pushing past perfectionism to achieve their goals and what living a B+ life looks like to them. Sarah is a recovering perfectionist, and I can relate on so many levels. Growing up I feel as though I was constantly striving to be a perfectionist, yet at the same time, when I realized that I was never going to excel at whatever sport, activity, class, or musical instrument, I’d find another to pursue. Maybe the next new adventure would become my passion.

What I didn’t realize was that my passion was right in front of me. I’ve always been a writer. From the time I was young I was keeping a diary. Falling in and out of love throughout highschool I wrote sappy poems. When I traveled, I kept a travel journal, documenting the highs and lows of the trip, the new and exciting places I’d seen, knowing that when I returned home I could read back over my words to be transported back in time.

Even though I knew from an early age that I loved to write, my fear of not being a perfect writer kept me from pursuing my passion. Luckily, I’ve moved past this unfounded trepidation to embrace the beauty of being myself, imperfections and all.

As Anna Quindlen writes in her book Being Perfect, “What is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”

Sarah and I talked about writing, blogging, mental health, the show, and why self-care is important. You can listen here! (Thank you to Sarah for her patience during the interview as my kiddos interrupted more than once. Her editing skills were put to good use!)

Thanks for having me, Sarah! It was fun!

#TBT – A Much Needed Vacation

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The other night as we were getting ready for bed I complained of my lack of writing lately to my husband.

“I just feel so disconnected from my illness. Like I haven’t been experiencing any symptoms so how can I write authentically on my blog?” I whined.

He smiled at me. “That’s a good thing.”

I’m not arguing that a lack of symptoms is anything but wonderful. These past four years I’ve felt better than I ever have. At about year five was when I crossed over to the point of understanding why my body did the things it did, and what I needed to do in order to control my illness lest it control me.

Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of scars from where I’ve been. I especially remember the emotional rips to my heart from the stigma I feared in talking about what I was going through early on.

I wasn’t the only person affected this way by my illness.

Less than two months after my first two episodes and the hospitalizations that followed, Ben and I found ourselves in a tropical paradise. That fall we had booked a romantic February vacation to celebrate our birthdays and Valentine’s day. I spent months researching bed & breakfast spots on the island before settling on one that looked absolutely breathtaking, cozy and perfect.

I still can’t believe I made it through the trip.

The sunsets were magical and sitting across from this man who had cared for me so lovingly brought me to tears almost every night. Even though I was desperate to talk about what had happened to me, to try to figure out why my brain got so screwed up, we couldn’t. It was too soon. It hurt too much to revisit those excruciating moments so soon after we had managed to pull through.

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Our B&B host was welcoming and sweet, and I would have loved to have chatted with her if I would have been able to make it through three sentences before getting choked up. I could barely tell her how much I enjoyed her homemade breakfast let alone tell her how special this trip was to us, how we both needed the relaxation the island was providing more than she’d ever know. It was as if my story was caught in my throat. But why wouldn’t it be? It was so raw and I hadn’t yet been able to process everything that had happened so no wonder my words got stuck and jumbled. It was easier to let the tears speak for me.

My love. He must have been so scared of what was ahead of us. Would I recover? Would I ever be the same woman he fell in love with? Would he be able to hold on to our marriage until I was able to pull myself out of the fog I was sinking into?

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{After I snapped this picture, Ben came face-to-face with a barracuda when he was snorkling!}

People often write to me and ask how I was able to make it. They look at my highlight reel and wonder how I make it look so effortless. But the photos of today don’t reflect the pain and suffering of eight and a half years ago. If you look closely at pictures from 2006, my eyes show the trauma. My feelings may have been bottled-up back then, but photos can’t lie. My smile isn’t as bright and true. My eyes are distant, cold, afraid of the future.

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The future keeps coming. And now I find myself here, ready for what is lies ahead still. But I haven’t done it alone, that’s for sure. My partner honored his vows and stayed by my side, cheering me on each and every day. Through the days when I said I didn’t think I wanted to go on anymore. Through the days when I doubted whether we’d ever have a family. Through the days when I fell asleep crying for it to be over, for the clouds to make way for the sun again in my life.

The sun came back. And although I know that it will come and go at times in my life, I hold on to the past as a reminder of how far I’ve come and how grateful I am for the life I have today.

Pushing Myself to Write a Book

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You say you want to write a book. You say this, and yet, you let days slip past without writing anything but emails or tweets or status updates. Those are never going to turn into a book.

You say you want to write a book. And yet, the days keep passing, the weeks and months that put more and more distance between you and your experiences of mental illness. They are beginning to feel more and more like harrowing nightmares that you’ve woken up from all sweaty and breathing fast.

But they weren’t nightmares. They were real life. And you better get these experiences down, out of the corners of your memory where you buried them for safekeeping, or else they may fade away completely.

Just write it already.

I’ve got a new Ed Sheeran album to inspire me. Plus, binders full of tips and tricks I was fortunate enough to acquire from a dear online friend who I’ll be meeting a year from next month.

But then summer schedules get in the way. My body moves like it’s stuck in quicksand. Each morning the early sunrise finds me digging myself out after staying up too late because after a 7:30pm yoga class is the only time I have peace and quiet to write and surf the internet. Walking into a quiet house at 9pm, grateful the kids are asleep, the dishes await me. The laundry needs to be folded. Trash taken out because it’s full to the top.

Still, I’m grateful my husband at least watched the kids and put them to bed so I could have my time.

Seventy-five minutes of pure blissful stretching, sweat rolling down my legs and arms as I melt into the poses which center me. Class leaves me tired, yet energized. These past three weeks of practicing yoga twice a week have begun to chisel my body and mind. Next items to tackle are prioritizing my schedule and sticking to it.

When there’s camp in the morning with only an hour and a half before early pick-up so that he doesn’t have to miss swimming and then dance class in the afternoon for her, the moments for writing are consumed by responding to emails and texts. And phone calls from my love in the middle of the day or on his way home, just checking in to see if I need anything.

I wish it didn’t take me an hour to get warmed up when I finally sit down at my desk and the clock reads 10pm. Discipline and focus are what I lack. I know this, and yet still have to click around for awhile, loosening up my typing fingers. It’s something I want to work on this procrastination issue I have. Wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t struggle with this monkey on my back.

Baby steps. Other women writers with families have written memoirs. I’ll get there. I have a feeling my memories will protect themselves inside my head until I’m ready to resurrect them in the order that makes the most sense for this book that is sleeping in my heart. One step at a time.