I Climb for You

Climb Out of the Darkness Postpartum Progress PPD

Last year’s Climb out of the Darkness family photo.

 

This is for the mom who emailed me three days ago asking for advice. A mom with two babies under two who thought she might have PPD, but didn’t know what to do.

You can get through this. You can climb out of the darkness.

I know it doesn’t feel like you can right now. I remember what it felt like.

Even though my type of bipolar leans towards manic episodes, I was pulled down by the darkness for an entire year. It almost suffocated me.

That year is a fuzzy mark on my memory, blurred out by the muted gray which sucked the life out of my world. Most nights I’d fall asleep sobbing, my cheek hot against the damp pillow. Food lost it’s appeal because my anxiety had burned my taste buds along with my desire to eat. The thought of doing anything – even taking a shower – was horribly overwhelming. I felt like life was just too uncomfortable, too painful. I’d climb into bed at night dreading the next day which would inevitably greet me, no matter how much I’d wish I wouldn’t wake up.

I don’t like to re-live those feelings, but they are engrained in my memory.

I’m glad they’re there to remind me of how far I’ve come. They live in me for a reason. So I can tell you to not give up. There are better days ahead. I promise.

With support, and proper treatment, you can and will get well.

I climb for you.

We emailed back and forth and you made that appointment. It’s your first step towards beating this. I’m so proud of you.

Promise me you won’t give up. This isn’t going to be easy. But by reaching out, just like you did when you found my blog, you can find more women who have overcome PPD. You will too.

I climb for you.

Having kids has definitely been the most challenging journey I’ve ever embarked on. Just when you think you have one phase figured out, they’re onto the next. Our little people watch us so closely, learning from the person who brought them into this world. Wait until they get older and you get to tell them all about how you beat this monster. They’re going to be so proud of you, mama. Beaming proud.

I want you to know that I’m pulling for you, and on Saturday, I climb for you. I’m right here beside you, cheering on each step, as you climb your way up to the summit.

*****

This Saturday, June 20th, on the longest day of the year, I’ll be participating in Postpartum Progress’ 3rd annual Climb Out of the Darkness fundraiser. It’s the world’s largest event raising awareness of maternal mental illnesses like postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety & OCD, postpartum PTSD, postpartum psychosis, postpartum bipolar disorder, and pregnancy depression and anxiety. We’re aiming to exceed our goal of raising $200,000 for programs which support women and their families so they can overcome these illnesses. I hope you’ll consider donating to this important cause.

Dark Side Of The Full Moon Review

Dark Side of the Moon Film Review Bipolar Mom Life

A life-saving film has been created. Dark Side of the Full Moon is a documentary about when motherhood meets mental health.

Earlier this week, the production team sent me an early viewing code. I watched it tonight. And let me just say that this film got me fired up.

At the end, Writer/Director Maureen Fura says, “This story could have been about how a group of women, who had never had a mental illness, suddenly at pregnancy and postpartum, found themselves in the midst of a mental health crisis. But the real story is how the most common complication of childbirth could be the best kept secret of motherhood.”

I urge you to watch this film. If you are able to make time tomorrow or Saturday, the Producer has provided a special discount viewing code: JAN2015.

https://www.reelhouse.org/furafilms/dark-side-of-the-full-moon

But even if you don’t have a chance to watch it by Saturday, I encourage you to pay the full price because we NEED to spread the word so that the secret can be demystified.

1 in 7 women in the United States will experience a postpartum mood disorder.

Stop and think about your circle of friends and your extended family. Count the last seven to have had a baby. Chances are one (or even two because not all cases are accounted for because many do not seek treatment) have PPD.

Or, like me, maybe one of them experienced postpartum psychosis. I was the 1 out of 1,000. I had been previously been diagnosed with Type 1 bipolar disorder. And yet, discussions on postpartum mood disorders never took place.

This needs to change. We need to have these conversations.

One of the big take-aways from the film is that there is a huge disconnect between OB-GYNs and Psychiatrists/Therapists. It’s almost as if neither wants to take responsibility for a mom struggling with a perinatal mood disorder. Part of the reality is that they have very little training in maternal psychiatric disorders. Why not when so many women (1.3 million women annually – more women get postpartum depression than breast cancer ever year) are affected?

The stories you hear will shock you. They will have you in tears. They will rock you to the core.

But they NEED to be heard.

This fantasy of motherhood being the most wonderful, endearing, perfect time of our lives is not reality. Having a baby is the most terrifying, nerve-wracking, anxiety-provoking event in a woman’s life. Everything changes in an instant. Let’s be real here.

And since the professionals don’t understand how to help us, it’s time we take matters into our own hands.

We can speak out and share our stories so that other women and their families can begin to understand the signs and symptoms. So that they won’t be afraid to reach out for help before a tragedy occurs. The more of us who can stand up and say, “I was sick, but I got treatment and I survived. And I tell my story to help others realize they are not alone,” the more lives we will save.

Maternal mental illness is complicated. But until we start talking about it openly, like any other illness in our body – cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, a broken leg, asthma, etc, etc, etc. – things will remain the same.

And we cannot let that happen. We cannot let mothers and babies slip through the cracks.

Please watch this film. Tell your friends and family about it. Share it because you may save a life by sharing it. Start these conversations.

If you’re currently in need of help for a possible perinatal mood disorder, here are some great resources to start with:

Postpartum Progress – the most widely-read website on postpartum mood disorders, also a non-profit organization focused on increasing awareness and providing peer support

Postpartum Support Interntional – if you need someone to talk to immediately, call the PSI Warmline at 1-800-944-4773 (4PPD)

and if you’re in the Washington, DC metro area, the DMV-PMH Resource Guide is a directory of specialized mental health providers for pregnancy and postpartum compiled by an incredible Labor & Delivery nurse and her team

The only way we’ll change the fact that postpartum mood disorders are motherhood’s biggest secret is by raising our voices collectively. Together we can force this change. These are secrets we no longer need to keep.

What I Learned After Spending Christmas in a Psych Ward

What I Learned After Spending Christmas in a Psych Ward

This holiday season, while many will be celebrating with cocktails and carols, parties and presents, some might find themselves in the same place I was nine years ago on Christmas Day: a psych ward. If it happens to you, or maybe you’re reading this and you know someone who may go through a similar scenario this year, here are some things to remember.

 

Don’t blame yourself.

Things happen which are beyond our control. Pointing the finger at yourself only makes the initial stage of recovery more challenging. Instead, point your finger three months down the road and remind yourself that it takes time to heal from a psychiatric trauma, and that is just what you intend to do.

 

It will get better.

A new year is a new start. Be sure to carve out at least a tiny chunk of time each day just for you to do something you enjoy. Go to a yoga class, meet a friend for coffee, or read a book in bed. You are important and it’s okay to remind yourself that you need attention too. Always putting the needs of others before your own and ignoring self-care can be detrimental to your mental health.

You’re not the only person this has happened to, even though it may feel this way at the time. Sometimes a stint in a psych ward is just the prescription we need to reset our recovery.

 

Go easy on yourself.

The transition back to “normal” life will be hard. Take lots of warm baths, soaking in the luxury not afforded in the psych ward. Read books that nourish your soul. Write in your journal until you begin to understand your journey. Someday you may want to share it so that others don’t feel so alone.

 

It’s going to be okay.

The first Christmas after {aka the first post-hospitalization anniversary} will be the toughest. All the feelings will come back. Don’t push them away, because that’ll only prolong the experience. Just let them come. There will probably be tears. There will definitely be sadness for the Christmas that wasn’t. But try not to dwell on what was lost, and focus instead on what was gained. Do your best to pull out the camera and take some pictures. Chances are, you don’t have many, if any, from the year before.

 

Know that this doesn’t define you.

If anything, the experience has made you stronger, more compassionate, and maybe it has paved the way for you to find your voice as an advocate. The truth about living with a mental illness is that once you’re diagnosed, it’s yours to live with for the rest of your life. It’s yours to manage, to curse, to medicate, and in time, it’s yours to appreciate.

There is no erasing a mental health condition. Therein lies both the beauty and the beast. The beast launches us up to heights we never thought possible, then hurls us crashing to the ground with a flick of his wrist and an, “I told you so, sucka.” But the beauty lifts us up and helps us lick our wounds, teaching us we are more than our diagnosis and we have important work to do.

 

If you’re ready to begin sharing your story, please consider submitting a poem, song, or essay for publication on our non-profit’s website: http://thisismybrave.org/submissions
 
 

Being Known as Bipolar Mom

Bipolar MomSummer Beach Trip, August 2014

Back when I started my blog three years ago, I guess I had the right idea when it came to choosing a name. It was me in that moment. I was a mom with bipolar, and I wanted a website where other moms with bipolar and other mental illnesses would land. And regular people, too, for that matter. I wanted my site to show up in search results. I was determined to get my story out there to help others who were going through similar experiences. Determined to make an impact, no matter how small. My heart told me that if I could reach people through my writing, I could help change the way people viewed mental illness in our society.

I knew in the back of my mind that I was so much more than my illness, but I needed a platform. So I built it, giving it the most obvious name. I set out on a quest and had no idea where it would lead me.

My words appeared anonymously at first, I had to test the waters. I wrote just words and only shared photos where faces weren’t recognizable to protect our privacy. But blogging behind a mask felt disingenuous and a bit like I was hiding something. It didn’t take long for me to realize my story was one I needed to tell with my real name. I wasn’t ashamed of the fact I had an illness in my brain. I deserved to have a voice, an authentic one, and I was ready to share my real life through not only my stories, but also through real photos of me and my family.

You see, until we put a face on mental illness, the face of a person who has learned to manage their illness so that the illness doesn’t control them, society will continue to stigmatize those who live with mental health disorders because they don’t understand. They don’t understand what we go through on a daily basis, they don’t understand how hard we fight to educate ourselves on the best medicines and treatments for our conditions, and they don’t understand how to support a person who is struggling with a mental illness. They fear what they don’t know. They don’t know it’s possible for a person with a mental illness to fully recover and live a beautiful, productive, successful life.

We can begin to change this ignorance by simply being open. By sharing our story when we have the opportunity. By letting go of the shame and embarrassment we inherited when we were diagnosed. And by not being afraid of being treated differently because of having a mental illness, but instead looking at it as a chance to educate someone and make a difference.

These days when Mary Lambert’s song Secrets comes on the radio, me and my kids sing it loud and proud. It’s no longer a secret that I live with bipolar disorder. I am sometimes recognized as “Bipolar Mom” when at networking events and I’m okay with this. I am a mom with bipolar disorder and my mental illness allowed me to become an advocate. I’ve rediscovered my love of writing and my blog guided me to create This Is My Brave with my creative partner, Anne Marie Ames, providing a platform and community for others living with mental illness to do what I’ve done.

I couldn’t imagine life any other way.  Happy Mental Illness Awareness Week, friends.

Today is National Depression Screening Day. Do yourself a favor and spend 2 minutes taking an online assessment of your mental health.