Postpartum Depression’s Black Clouds of Despair

mama and girlsDear new mom,

 

I know how tough today is for you.  You feel this pressure to be “on” and get all dressed up for church and brunch out at a restaurant when all you want to do is stay in bed and get some rest.  Today is a bittersweet anniversary for me.  It was seven years ago today that I realized that I was really struggling with postpartum depression and that I was not okay.  I treated myself to a free yoga class taught by a dear friend.  The relaxation portion of the class was wonderful until I realized how much tension I was carrying around.  I realized that the pit of anxiety and panic in my stomach wasn’t going away.  I felt like I was drowning.  I could not see color; I just saw gray around me.  I felt like I had a black cloud of despair over my head.

 

After the class had ended, I spoke with my friend about the challenges of having two children and how hard it was for me.  She was so reassuring and empathetic.  After chatting with my friend, I drove home in silence.  I remembered that she had disclosed to me several years earlier that she had suffered from severe postpartum depression with her oldest.  I wondered if this was what I was suffering from.  I got on the Internet, and I found Postpartum Progress and Postpartum Support International.  I found a therapist who was fifteen minutes from my house.  She had a last-minute cancellation, and I was in her office the following Wednesday.  Two weeks later, she gave me my official diagnosis of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.

 

If you’re struggling this Mother’s day, please know that you are not alone.  I want to reach through my computer screen and give you a hug.  Imagine me sitting next to you with a cup of coffee, some cookies, and a blanket.   I am listening.  I hear you, and I understand.  It gets better, I promise.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  One day you will notice the colors around you.  The sky will be bluer, and you will realize how beautiful the sound of your child’s laughter is.  You’ll feel those little seeds of hope within your soul.  On this Mother’s Day, I am proud to say that I am a survivor of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.  I got through it, and so will you.  Postpartum depression will make you think that you are a bad mom, but you are not.  You are a great mom, and you are so loved and appreciated.

 

~ Jenny

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Listening to My Body

This time I did not listen to my body until my body screamed at me.  When I look back on the last several months, my anxiety was increasing.  It seemed to have happened so gradually.  I let my stress and anxiety over my work take over everything.

It came to a head when I had a severe colitis attack over a weekend.  It began on a Friday afternoon where I could barely leave work for fear of not having a bathroom nearby.  It settled down Saturday, but Sunday left me weak and on the couch.  My body told me to rest.  I did not take a sick day.   I worked from home that day.  Thankfully I had gotten an appointment to get in to see my primary care doctor the following morning.

My anxiety was unmanageable.  We increased my medication dosage, and we spoke at length about what had caused this anxiety.  I was strongly encouraged to find another job as soon as possible since my anxiety was exacerbated by the stress I was under at work.  I had scheduled an appointment with my therapist for the following week.  I had initially thought about asking for paperwork to take a medical leave of absence from work to get my anxiety under control.  After I had spoken with my doctor, I felt validated.  I did not think that it would be necessary to get this paperwork.

I was already actively looking for a new job. I felt hopeful leaving this appointment. I left my appointment, and I went directly into the office. I spent the next three days working with no break for 10 plus hours to finalize procedure updates. I had to text my husband and call in favors from child care. I did not set the expectation about what time I needed to leave the office, so my boundary wasn’t respected. I still felt weak and extremely tired. I finished the week on adrenaline and caffeine.

Now that I am no longer in my position, I see how much of a physical toll the stress took on me. I finally feel rested. I lost weight. My colitis flare subsided about a week after I left. I feel lighter. I’m tending to my whole self – mind, body, and soul.

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Transitions

I normally stink at transitions. Just over two years ago, I was laid off. When I went to the outplacement session, one of the facilitators there said that we stay too long in a job that no longer suits us. This is so true for me. My husband jokes that I get an itch at two to three years.

As someone who’s a lifelong learner, I struggle with finding the ability to incorporate both my right and left brain. I love to create, and I love spreadsheets and schedules. I know what my true calling is. I am a storyteller – a cuentista, a cantadora, a seanachie.

I parted ways with my current job. It was not the exit I had planned. I miss my former team. They are amazing people who I adore and respect. They challenged me and helped me to grow both as a person and as a leader.

I am taking this time to recharge and reset. I am focusing on what feeds my soul: reading, writing, listening to podcasts, dancing and singing. I am trying to be deliberate and intentional about my next opportunity. I am relishing this time to focus on my family. The more I feed my soul, the more I can be present with them.

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2018 Word of the Year

I have chosen a year of the word for the past six years. This year I again chose a word of the year along with three anchor words. I was blessed to win a calligraphy of my word of the year from Lucrecer Braxton https://lucrecerbraxton.com/2017/12/08/how-to-choose-your-word-of-the-year/. Her writing and her artistry is amazing.

This year I chose the word Authentic. The definition of the word authentic is “of undisputed origin; genuine.” I am using this word to determine my next steps professionally. I am a storyteller. That is my true passion and calling. I am figuring out how to incorporate that into my life. My anchor words are Intention, Power and Magic. I want to remain true to myself. I also want to be intentional about how I spend my time and energy. I want to stand in my power and speak my truth. I want to use my magic of storytelling and creativity. I am choosing to surround myself with music, exercise, books and podcasts that fill my soul, my family and friends, visual pieces that remind me of my priorities, and writing and journaling. Have you chosen a word of the year? How has it changed you this year?

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When School Isn’t Safe

I sat at work in a fog. I found it hard to focus. I sent my sweet girls with my parents for a long weekend. As I watched them drive away, I cried. I cried with relief that they are in good hands. I cried because I will miss them dearly. I cried because I hate that they practice the lockdown drills.

I own a gun, and so does my husband. My gun is in a locked cabinet, and my husbands gun case is locked. The ammunition is not together with the guns. I support common sense legislation. I support background checks. I support a nationwide gun registry. I am fine with extra checks because I have a diagnosed mental illness. No one needs to collect guns. Only use the ones you need for hunting. Get rid of the rest of them. There is no reason for a semi automatic gun. There is no reason for a bump stock to convert a gun into an automatic weapon. What purpose does owning a weapon like that do? You would not hunt any animals with those weapons. They are meant to destroy and kill as many as possible. Take away my guns. I am okay with that. I haven’t hunted in years. If that is what it takes to stop the epidemic of gun violence in the US, I will do it.

I am heartbroken and enraged at the frustration and outrage from our teenagers. Of course they’re upset. They have every right to be. We have the power to fix this. Thank you to the amazing teachers and parents who are holding space for our teens. I see your brave. We can fix this. Are you with me?

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Warrior Mom Community: The Sisterhood

184Why is maternal mental health so important to me? I have been in that hell of shame. I could not tell anyone how I was feeling. The stigma and fear of getting my children taken away paralyzed me into not reaching out for help.

Warrior Mom sisterhood is unlike no other.  It is the validation of “me too” and a hug that says so much without saying a word.  I spent a whirlwind weekend over two years ago with some amazing members of my tribe.  It took me some time to completely my process my experience.  My head churned with all the possibilities.  My roommate was the lovely Anne-Marie.  We have chatted a ton online, mostly via Twitter and Facebook groups, but we didn’t have each other’s phone numbers.  It was a match made in heaven for ladies who love to chat about music, writing, books, children and life.

I got to meet some of my dearest friends from the Internet – Lauren, Andrea, and Lindsay.  I immediately started crying when I saw Lauren.  She needed to remind me to breathe.  Lauren has been an amazing friend and one of those truly integral people in my healing journey.  To actually meet her in person after texting, messaging and talking on the phone for years was so surreal.

I met Lindsay next, and it was like she’s always been a part of my circle.  She cracked me up.  I love getting the chance to share glances and jokes that only the two of you really get. I loved the chance to let loose and toss back some cocktails.

Andrea is just a dear.  I share a special connection with Andrea.  At my most emotional during the conference, I sat down on the floor with her and just sobbed.  Her hug was magical.  I felt so much love and so much support.

I want to remind my fellow mamas that the sisterhood always remains.  It does not need a formal place or space to reside.  Through shared experience, you become sisters.  This requires us to listen to each other’s stories and honor the different perspectives.  As a cis white woman, I found a therapist who looks like me whose office is 15 minutes away.  I am so privileged that I was able to access that type of care so quickly.  Representation was never a concern for me, and neither was cultural competence.  Our sisterhood needs to continue to focus on making support accessible for all mamas, honoring unique cultural needs and experiences.  Our stories are different, and our experiences are different. We can honor those emotions that fellow mamas feel with a “Me too”.

 

 

 

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Six Things to Say to a Loved One with PPD

As I continue to use my voice as an advocate for moms who are struggling with PPD, I keep returning to the same questions that my family asked me.  How could we have helped?  What could we have said that would help you get help sooner? Thank you to my mom and my sister for inspiring this post. Here are the things that would have helped me through PPD:

  1. “You will get better.” Repeat this often to the loved one that is struggling.  She will need lots of affirmation and reassurance that she will recover from this.  Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are temporary, and she will recover with time. When your loved one is in the depths of depression or in the grip of anxiety, she is in survival mode.  She cannot imagine that she will make it through another day.  She needs the support and hope from her family members.

 

  1. “You are a great mom.” Depression tells a struggling mom the lie that she is a horrible mom. She feels like she is the only one who is struggling with motherhood.  All the other mothers around her seem to enjoy their babies and have it all together.  She feels like she is the only one with ambivalent or negative feelings about motherhood.  Also tell your loved one specific examples of how her actions demonstrate that she is a great mom.  Depression causes distorted thinking.  A crucial part of recovery is learning to combat the negative self-talk with positive affirmations.

 

  1. “I am here for you.” A struggling mom will isolate herself from friends and family. It is important to visit her and just let her know that you are there. Sometimes all she needs is someone to sit with her and hold her hand and hug her.  A loved one’s mere presence can bring comfort to a struggling mom.  Face to face is best.  If you are unable to visit her, send her a handwritten card.  Send her a text.  Write an e-mail.  Pick up the phone.

 

  1. “You are not alone.” Loneliness coupled with the tendency to isolate makes a struggling mom vulnerable. The support of her family and close friends aids in the recovery process.  She will not expect you to fully understand her struggle.  If you have not struggled with a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder, you would not be able truly understand the experience.  What she needs the most is empathy and kindness.

 

  1. “I am thinking of you.” I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping the lines of communication open with your struggling loved one. You do not have to say much.  It is your presence and your encouragement that means the most.  This simple phrase lets your struggling loved one that she is not forgotten and that she matters.

 

  1. “I love you.” Unconditional love and support is what a struggling mom needs throughout her entire journey of recovery. Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders do a number on your loved one’s psyche.  She may feel that she is not lovable.  When you tell her you that your love her, you are giving her validation that she is loved, loving and lovable.
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