Friday, May 27, 2016

How Post Partum Depression and Anxiety Changed Me (for the better, I swear...)

In our society, mental health issues are mocked, misunderstood and worse. People shame those of us living with these conditions, tell us that they know more about our struggles than we do, insist that we should just do _______ (literally insert a million different things here) and we'd be "better", whatever "better" means.

Mostly, I think that people just wish we either recovered immediately or that we never spoke openly about these conditions. People don't want us to talk about the things we struggle with because it all makes them uncomfortable.

Oh well. I make people uncomfortable.

It's basically my specialty.

Besides, I am far more concerned with my mental stability and the stability of the other mothers in this world than I ever will be with anyone else's comfort level.

Sorry not sorry.

I wanted to talk a little bit today about the ways that living with Post Partum Depression and Anxiety (PPDA) has changed me for the better.

I really need to make this permanent.
Most of the time, when I write about my experiences here, I'm talking about the bad stuff. The ways it has messed with my life in the negative. The memories I don't have, the time I have lost, the worries I have been handed, the wondering every day about whether and to what degree there might be permanent issues associated with all this. Most of the time when I write about PPDA here, I'm trying to raise awareness for the symptoms of the condition, the wide range of variation in the ways and times in which it can manifest. Most of the time, I'm trying to inform people about the alternative ways to cope with the condition. Most of the time, I'm reaching out to the mother somewhere on the internet who might be reading my words. I'm putting my arms around her and I'm sitting with her in the struggle and I'm asking her to get help.

I don't often talk about the ways in which it has changed me for the better, probably because it takes a lot of time and distance to even start to see them. It's hard to believe that there could be any positives when you're down in the trenches, wading through the visions and the tears, wondering if it is ever going to go away.

I don't talk about it often because for the most part, I'm still there, in the dark place. I've started to come out of it a bit this time around, but in some ways I've realized that it might never completely disappear. I've been to this rodeo enough times now that I think that maybe there are pieces of it that have become permanently etched into who I am.

And maybe, just maybe, that's not a bad thing.

I'll explain.

Because I know my history, my personal experiences with PPDA, because I remember simultaneously knowing that something was very wrong with me and yet living in active denial, I talk about it. I talk about it because I know that I need to for my own mental stability. I talk about it because I know that suppression of it will only feed the beast. I know that I have no choice but to talk about it so that the darkness doesn't call me further in.

Because I know that I remember feeling like I was broken and flawed and the worst mother in the universe for not being able to fix whatever was wrong with me, I talk about it. I talk about it because I would have given anything to know that I wasn't alone the first time around. I would have stopped beating myself up so much quicker had I realized that I wasn't the only woman who lived with intrusive thoughts. I write about it because there might be a mother out there on the other side of a screen who needs to know she isn't alone right now.

Because I know that I lost entire years of memories to PPDA, I document everything now. They say that you always take the most pictures of your first baby, but I can tell you that it's not true for a mother who has lived with PPDA and gone on to have more children. I honestly don't remember the first year of one of my children's lives. I didn't take many pictures. What memories I have been able to reconstruct from that time are from the few pictures and videos I did take. So now, I take more. I take more in case there comes a day somewhere down the road where it disappears from my mind out of the necessity of a coping mechanism.

Because I know how hard it is to ask for help and seek it out, I reach out to all the new mothers in my life. I warn them ahead of time, I tell them that I am going to invade your personal space. I am going to check on you. I am going to ask you questions. I am going to do my damnedest to ensure that you aren't heading down that dark path, and if you are I am going to make sure you are not going alone. I'm coming with you, I'm asking you to do whatever you need to do in order to get well.

Because I know that what works for one person might not work for another, and that there are a myriad of ways to manage these conditions, I don't ever judge the path a mother chooses. Quite the opposite. I will defend her right to seek treatment in whatever way she sees fit, whether it comes in the form of medication or therapy or exercise or placental encapsulation. Lord knows that we get mocked enough from everyone else in this world about our choices as mothers, particularly when we speak our truth about living with PPDA - we don't need to hear anything but love and support from those who have been there, from those who understand.

Because I know that the medical profession does an abysmal job of screening and treating new mothers, I advocate for change. I stay updated on new research and new apps and new screening methods that are designed to catch those of us (and by those of us, frankly I mean almost all of us) who are missed by a system that only cares about whether our stitches have healed.

Because I know that I crave sunlight and the wind in my face and physical motion to find my center, I force myself to get outside, to get moving. I know, having lived with this as long as I have, that I need to take care of my physical being in order to take care of my heart and soul and mind. I know this. I know how vital vitamin D is in my universe, and when I'm invading the personal space of the new mothers in my life, I nudge them outside too. 

Because I know that I can have this time taken away from me by forces outside my control at any given moment, I live in the now. I live in the present more now than I ever did before. I drink in the mundane everyday things. I know how fragile these memories are, so I do everything in my power to live for today. I know that I might not have this memory tomorrow.

Because I know how much I blamed myself for my reality, because I know that doing that made everything worse, I've learned to be gentler with myself. I forgive myself quicker, but I hold myself accountable for more. When I utter the words, "I tried" or "I did my best", it's not some empty placation to make myself feel's the truth.

Because I know that I need breaks, time away from the constant demands of mothering, I force myself to take them now. I need the distance and the perspective. I need to take care of me. I need to trust others to do what I do long enough to get right with myself, and the difference between me before PPDA and me after PPDA is that I don't just know these things now, I do them. This isn't about spa days and massage treatments, it's not about any of the things this society seems to believe about self-care. It's not about pampering or what I tell people I deserve. It's about what I need to survive. Some days it looks like sitting in a parking lot alone for five minutes. It's not glamorous, but it's necessary.

Because I have lived with PPDA, because I have been here, I am a still a doula. I think that it will always be a part of who I am, even if the time between births stretches longer and longer. A lot of people think that being a doula is just about helping a women through childbirth. It isn't. It's about helping a mother through motherhood, and my job doesn't end just because a baby arrives. In many ways, it's just beginning. 

As I sit here in tears pouring out my soul this morning, there is gratitude for this journey today, a gratitude that I've never been able to articulate before just now. I wouldn't wish PPDA on anyone in a million years. I wouldn't wish for this struggle, for this pain, for these worries. I wouldn't wish for the judgment and the cruelty of the world to be imposed on anyone.

What I know now, though, is that this journey, for better or for worse, has changed me. It has taught me countless lessons about myself, about those around me. It has revealed the truth about others, whether in good ways or bad. It has demonstrated my resilience. It made me fight, for myself and for all the other mothers staring at themselves in a mirror wondering what the hell went wrong. It has shaped me, in some ways more than anything else I've been through, and those changes haven't all been bad. They certainly haven't.

Some of them have been amazing gifts.

It has just taken me this long to see it clearly.

I see it now, though.

I see it.

I hope that someday, every mother who has ever been in this place can see it too.

Much love. xo

1 comment:

  1. Thank you.
    For being brave enough to own it and display it to help others own it, too. You're a rock star!


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