4 Ways People Responded After I Blogged About Postpartum Depression

When I published Not My Normal Self, I had only told four people I was managing PPD. I’m fairly certain I wrote, erased, and rewrote the post at least a dozen times. After all, if you Google “postpartum depression”, half of what you find is about stigma anyway.

I was scared of how people would react. Would they think I’m weak? How would I  be judged? Would my career be impacted? Does anyone even care? My very-public announcement of mental illness elicited four types of responses.

“I Would Have Never Known”

This was by far the most common response I received, especially at work. So many people were shocked to learn I had been struggling for months. When people said this to me, they said it as more of a compliment. I’ve always found that strange. Like it was supposed to be some sort of compliment I didn’t let my illness affect my work, friendships, family, etc. This is misguided, but I can understand it. Parenthood dramatically changes an individual- how is someone to know if there is actually a problem or if I am just adjusting to parenthood? Two words: get nosy.

Postpartum depression affected every aspect of my life. Every waking moment I struggled to focus. While at work, I threw myself into learning my new job, but I also had this nagging fear I would have a panic attack in the middle of a meeting. At home, I didn’t even recognize the person I had become. I felt like my own house was closing in on me and there was no way out. With friends, well, I was a new mom so I hardly interacted with them. Recently, B and I were looking at photos from when M was a baby. He paused on one particular photo and commented that it didn’t look like me, that he could see in my eyes something wasn’t right.

2015062795184424.jpg

Aside from the intent of a compliment, I think others who said “I would have never known” meant it as a defense for why they didn’t help. It was as if they wanted to tell me that had they known, they would have been there for me. To each one of you, I know this. I chose not to disclose for many reasons, and I don’t doubt that if anyone in my life had known, they would have offered support. I’m fortunate to have a fantastic support network.

Discomfort Talking to Me About It

Some folks didn’t want to acknowledge it. Others kind of tip-toed around me, acting shifty and not making eye contact. Perhaps people were afraid I would burst into tears or have a “breakdown”? I’m not sure exactly what this was about, but there were some people who very conspicuously avoided the issue. Here’s what I think about this type of response to someone with mental illness: would you treat me this way if I needed major surgery?

I like to think of mental illness as any other illness. For example, if someone has a heart attack they go to the hospital, receive treatment, have some sort of medication and rehab, and hopefully recover. Resource shortages aside, the same thing for someone who has a mental health emergency. They go to the hospital, receive treatment, have some sort or medication and rehab, and hopefully recover. The same analogy holds true for chronic conditions like Crohn’s Disease and chronic depression; they don’t go away on their own and have to be monitored by a health care professional. If you wouldn’t feel uncomfortable asking someone about their health condition, why would you feel uncomfortable asking about my depression?

Confessions From Other Moms

At least three other women told me they’d had postpartum depression. All of these women are folks I’ve known for years and either are friends or close colleagues. Why hadn’t I previously known? It all comes back to stigma.

This was truly the silver lining of postpartum depression. I heard so many amazing stories from women who had been through something similar. This community and sense of understanding was critical to my recovery, as well as others.

Consultation Requests

On a similar note, many expectant or new moms now ask me about PPD. Some have even re-read my blog! Here are some of the questions I am asked:

  • How did I know?
  • What were my symptoms?
  • What was my treatment plan?
  • What’s the difference between “baby blues” and PPD?
  • Did I take anti-depressants?
  • What was therapy like?

I welcome any and all questions and will be honest about my experience and my limitations. I am not a mental health professional. However, by sharing my own experience with others, I can normalize it for others and help them look out for warning signs. Even strangers or folks in the blogging community.

Conclusion

I’m so grateful for all the support I have received: my husband, friends, family, colleagues, therapist, and psychiatrist. My network was just as important to my recovery as the Sertraline and therapy. Looking back, I’m also grateful I chose to be open about my struggle with PPD. Ending the stigma is critical for early detection and treatment. Through being open about my own experience, others have sought professional help and support.

If you know anyone who may be struggling with postpartum depression, or any other mental illness, please talk to them. Take time to listen, empathize, and normalize. Encourage folks to get help and offer to support them however necessary. After all, mental illness is illness; how would you treat someone with any other health condition?

Resources

National Suicide Hotline – 1-800-273-8255

Postpartum Support International – 1-800-944-4773

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

 

How to Terrify a Toddler – Swim Edition

As I mentioned in Weekend Recap – Hula Hoops and Baths, I started swimming lessons with M this week. Based on her recent fears of changing her clothes, changing her diaper, and baths, I was not optimistic. All weekend, we talked up swimming lessons. She could wear her Minnie swim suit! It would be fun! She could learn to splash! We talked about all the people who love to swim: Mama, Dada, Grammie, Grandma, etc. How convenient that all her favorite people love to swim (wink wink)!

Adorned in her Minnie Mouse swim suit and sandals, she willingly walked into the recreation center and pool area. For the first lesson, B would go into the pool with M and I would watch from the side. Once she saw the water and kids in the pool, M became clingy and uncertain. She didn’t take her eyes off the pool.

By the time the instructor took attendance and covered safety best practices, it was already ten minutes into the thirty minute swimming lesson. Thank god.

From the moment they walked into the 3-foot pool, M was screaming and clinging. I could hear her little voice booming throughout the pool area, “No, Dada, no! Get out! Go back! All done! Go over there!” All of the other toddlers and their parents were singing Wheels on the Bus, and my kid was screaming for her life.

She literally clung on and screamed the entire time. After it was over, I asked her about swimming.

“Do you like swimming?”

“Yes!”

“Do you like the water?”

“Yes!”

“Do you want to come back?”

“NO!”

On the bright side, she zonked out early Monday night. Anyone else’s kids take of their PJs in protest?

IMG_1178

Last night, we went back for Round 2. I anticipated we wouldn’t even get her in the water. This time, both B and I went in with her. It was definitely helpful to have us both in the water to encourage her, play with her, and contain her.

Round 2 was infinitely better than Round 1. She participated in the Hokey Pokey and Wheels on the Bus. However, she still yelled the whole time:

“Get out, Mama!” “Go over there!” “All done!”

With five minutes left, the instructor kindly suggested M was cold and we could take her to the warmer wading pool if we wanted. We politely declined. We wanted M to participate to her fullest and didn’t want to teach her that she could give up. She had made it 25 minutes and progressively improved, surely another five minutes was fine.

Two minutes later, the instructor came back and, while still polite, excused us to the wading pool. She then asked if we planned to return on Monday. Yes, of course we were planning to return!

For that day, we took the hint. We had been dismissed by the teacher.

What did the instructor do to help?

For the first lesson, NOTHING. B and M were completely isolated away from the group as he was trying to console her. The instructor hardly even acknowledged they were there. I was pretty disappointed. B was frustrated because the instructor is supposedly the expert and surely has some tips for how to help. And offered nothing. At that rate, we may as well just take her to a community pool ourselves instead of paying for lessons.

The second lesson, the instructor paid more attention to M and tried to include her a little more. This was helpful for us to try to keep M positive and the instructor provided some affirmation to M as well. Then banished us to the wading pool.

Were the other kids as scared?

Nope! Surprisingly, M was the only kid afraid of the water. I couldn’t believe it. While M was screaming her head off, they were all surfing on floaties.

What she disruptive to everyone else?

No. The pool area for our lesson was big enough that we could move away from the group activities when we needed to regroup and it was loud enough that her yelling blended in with the rest of the normal kids-in-a-pool noise.

Were the other parents sympathetic?

Heck no. At times they even seemed to be annoyed by M and judgmental we were keeping her in the water. One even shot me a look when M wanted to try their large, shared floaty. To them I say this: your turn will come.

At some point in every kid’s life, they will be the scared kid. Get over yourself and your future Missy Franklin.

 

Are you going to keep taking her?

Absolutely! The second lesson was way better than the first. It’s only going to get better as she becomes more comfortable. At this age, it’s not about learning from crawl or the butterfly stroke. It’s about feeling comfortable and confident in the water, which in turn will lead to better swimming and water safety later on. We are taking it slow and at her pace. She isn’t disruptive, just not as participatory as the other kids. I’m willing to bet by the sixth lesson, she is on par with everyone else.

For more information on how to make swimming lessons less scary:

http://www.parents.com/baby/safety/outdoor/help-your-kids-learn-to-love-swimming/?slideId=49789

https://www.todaysparent.com/kids/preschool/scared-of-water/

Weekend Recap – Hula Hoops and Baths

Happy Monday! I hope you had a wonderful weekend. Mine was spent outdoors at my town’s annual Arts Fest. They had lots of kids activities around art and different cultures. M loved coloring, making music, and playing with the hula hoops. It’s so much fun to watch her explore her world!

M hula hoop

However, I did face a new challenge with my Little Miss. On Thursday, M’s daycare told us she had an accident mid-diaper change. Something about changing her diaper but then letting her sit on the potty and then an accident. I didn’t quite get the full story and at the time and just shrugged it off. My exchange with her went something like this:

“M, did you try the potty at school today?”

“YES!”

“What happened?”

“I got wet!”

On Friday evening, we took a family trip to Costco to renew our membership (hellooooooo samples). B took M to the bathroom for a diaper change, and she started to pee as he was changing her. Eh, it happens sometimes, right?

Ever since, M has been terrified of diaper changes, the bath, changing her clothes, and getting wet in any capacity. Now is a good time to note WE START SWIM LESSONS TONIGHT.

Each diaper change was met with clenched legs and yelling “no diaper change! no diaper change!”

Each attempt at a bath resulted in M refusing to take her clothes off. I even tried putting her in her cool new Minnie swim suit. Nope, no bath. Not having it.

Not wanting to force her and worsen the situation, I backed off on the bath and just focused on the diaper changes. For each diaper change, she got an animal cracker. It’s amazing how quickly she can change her mind when there’s a cookie at stake!

By Sunday morning, M was doing fine with diaper changes and getting dressed, but was still not interested in a bath. Her last bath was Thursday. It was time to get serious.

B dug out his swim trunks and filled the tub. I got M in her swim suit. B suited up and climbed in, pretending to have a fabulous time playing with her bath toys. Soon, M was interested in joining, but only in her swimming suit and only sitting on B’s lap.

Once she was comfortable in the tub, she let me wash her hair. By the end of the bath, she was asking me for soap so she could do it herself!

The rest of the day went much better and this morning I warned daycare that diaper changes might be iffy. I also got the full story on the accident from Thursday. Not only did she have an accident, but the fire alarm went off and they had to evacuate in the middle of it all! Stay tuned for how her swim lesson goes tonight…

Has anyone else had a similar experience?

June TBR

I can’t believe it’s already June! It seems like just yesterday I was fretting about packing my house and moving. Even in summers I’m not moving (if I can remember such a time), I don’t read as much because I would rather be in my gardens or enjoying the community events such as the farmer’s market. However, I’ve found some ways to fit it in.

Most of my reading is done over the lunch our at work. I can close the door and kick back with my book in one hand and sandwich in the other. Between eating and inevitably checking social media, I can polish off 50 pages or so this way. I’ve also discovered a new time I can dedicate to reading: my bus ride.

I’ve started taking the bus home from work. There’s a stop across the street from my office that leaves at 5pm sharp, and it drops off just down the block from my home. B, M, and Bowman are all there to greet me as I walk in the door at 5:20. In that short, uninterrupted ride, I can read 40-50 pages. I could read nearly an entire book per week just on my ride home!

For June, I’ve picked three books- one I’ve been meaning to read, another that was a gift, and a third I found in the depths of my long-abandoned Goodreads account. There should be some nice variety too!

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg is a personal hero, and I’m thrilled she’s graciously and vulnerably using her own devastating tragedy to generate public awareness around grief and resilience. She perfected balancing personal anecdotes with research in Lean In, and I have high expectations for Option B.

Option B

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

“Splendid Suns” is Hosseini’s follow up to The Kite Runner.  Centered around two women in Kabul, it chronicles thirty years of Afghan history with themes of friendship, faith, and family. A colleague recently gifted me a copy, and I’m very eager to read not only for the story but to seek to understand the history and culture in Afghanistan.

A thousand splendid suns

The Happiness Hypothesis – Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt researched some of life’s oldest maxims, such as the Golden Rule, and examines whether abiding by old bits of wisdom can actually enrich our lives. I found this one buried on my Goodread’s list. My guess is I found it through happiness aficionado Gretchen Rubin. I’m a little skeptical, but curious enough to read it.

The Happiness Hypothesis

What’s everyone else reading this month?

The Magnetic Property of Home

Since returning to Iowa, I have been pondering the concept of Home. What makes a Home? Is it where I am from? Where I feel connected? Can someone have multiple Homes?

“Where are you from?”

I have struggled with this question for a while. It is a simple, low-risk question in social settings, but I have observed that respondents frequently exhibit hesitation and give a long-winded explanation.

When I first moved to Iowa, I would give a long-winded answer that I am from Green Bay, WI but had really lived all over the central time zone. It seemed like a simpler way to explain my geographic identity. In college, I moved every year, if not every semester and never stuck around long enough to feel at home there. In graduate school, I lived in Lubbock, TX. While those were two influential years of my life, in no way do I or ever will I identify as a Texan.

In about 2014, I noticed a shift. I had been in Iowa for three years and stayed in the same apartment for two of those years. That was the longest I had lived anywhere since high school! I had developed a strong community, professional networks, and started thinking about other opportunities to stay here. It was then I started to explain that my Hometown is Green Bay but my Home is Iowa.

For me, Home and Hometown are different. As I have grown older and more removed from where I grew up, I do not feel as connected, and I definitely do not feel it is my Home. There are a few reasons.

  • I do not know many people there anymore. Some of my family has moved away. My friends are all gone. Returning sparks nothing more than a distant familiarity.
  • None of my adult life’s big events happened there. In the 12 years since I have lived in Green Bay I have graduated college (twice), met and married B, developed my career, started my family, and formed many wonderful friendships. All hours, even states, from Green Bay.
  • Most individuals connect my hometown with the Green Bay Packers. Whenever I share my hometown with others, the conversation naturally drifts to football. Yes, I am a big fan, but it is not something that defines me.

In Atlanta, a piece of my identity was missing. I felt no sense of Home. I proudly told anyone I met that I was from Iowa but was raised in Green Bay. It was hard to find folks who understood what it meant to be an Iowan, even a Midwesterner. It was even harder for some folks to find Iowa on a map! This seemingly small annoyance is symbolic of my time there- feelings of disorientation, misunderstood, and isolation.

“Sense of Place”

Through a brief review of the research, it seems as though I am not the only one who struggles to answer, “Where are you from?”

Much of the research around Home calls this concept “sense of place”. It is a complex idea that has roots in history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and geography. Holistically, the research suggests place identity exists around one’s dwelling, community, and region. To one, sense of place may be sitting in the dining room of a childhood home. To another, it’s the community in which they reside and are involved. For another, it may be their identity as a Southerner in the United States- a region with strong cultural identity. Sense of place can exist in all three forms and to varying degrees within an individual.

According to Pew Research Center (Cohn & Morin, 2008): “Home means different things to different people…But there’s a wide range of definitions of ‘home’ among Americans who have lived in at least one place besides their original hometown: 26% say it’s where they were born or raised; 22% say it’s where they live now; 18% say it’s where they have lived the longest; 15% say it’s where their family comes from; and 4% say it’s where they went to high school.” I put myself in the “where they live now” category.

A Smithsonian article for 2012 (Klinkenborg, 2012) describes Home more psychologically: the “magnetic property of home”. From a psychological perspective, it is the idea that when we feel we are Home, everyone in our lives seems to come together in harmony. I couldn’t agree more. Here are some of my favorite characteristics of my Home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Home is where I keep going back, where I seek familiarity, and where I see the future.

What does Home mean to you?