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World Mental Health Day Blog Party: Coming Out of the Closet About Depression and Postpartum Depress

Originally posted October 9, 2011.

Hey there! Honored to be part of PsychCentral’s World Mental Health Day Blog Party! Today, as an LPC, I could write another professional blog about treatment options or family dynamics; like outline a specific self-care relaxation, expressive or cognitive re-framing exercise.

But, online, I’ve been skirting around telling my own personal story.

Today I made a careful personal decision to out myself.

I am a depression and postpartum depression survivor.

First, I want to make it clear that just because I am telling my personal story which includes info about how I parent, I am NOT trying to make anyone else feel guilty NOR am I trying to tell anyone to parent the way I parent. Got that?

Second, as a licensed professional, I’ve gotten flack around the web for outing myself. You know, as we say in the therapy biz, don’t should on me. Because I’m in excellent company.

Two of my heroes are the distinguished Kay Redfield Jamison, M.D., and Peter C. Whybrow, M.D. They are both high-functioning mental health professionals and are brave enough to out themselves and dispel the myths and the stigma about mental illness.

Dr. Jamison is a full professor at Johns Hopkins and co-director of their prestigious Mood Disorders Clinic. She is the author of several memoirs about her personal struggle with bipolar disorder. She is a living legend of survival. I recently had the honor of watching Dr. Jeanne Driscoll speak and she said Dr. Jamison led the way in helping to bring mental illness out of the closet and into the public eye.

Dr. Whybrow is Director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California in Los Angeles. He is also the Judson Braun Distinguished Professor and Executive Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine and CEO of the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA. He has written about his personal struggle with a mood disorder as well.

Today, I am emotionally balanced. I took time to know myself and learn how to care for myself. It was a long journey of self-love and self-care. I have not had a depressive episode in 15 years.

I thought I’d include a recent picture of me and my family.

But it wasn’t always like this. I had dark days.

Ok – pieces of my story.

Giving birth and becoming a parent was/is the most powerful and primal experience of my life. After I gave birth, I experienced extreme joy and extreme love. I also experienced the most profound, debilitating postpartum depression. And I let it go untreated.

I share my story in the hope you don’t let your depression go untreated.

Moms, believe in yourselves! Believe in your choices! They are ok. You are ok.

Back then, I did see a therapist, who very kindly suggested I go to a female psychiatrist (over & over again!) who could discuss medication and breastfeeding options with me.

But, I refused to go see this psychiatrist, as I was afraid of the effects on my baby. I cherished the nursing relationship with him. The nursing times were the best times of the day. It was soothing to relax, sit down, and just feel the love between us! And I did not want to expose him to any form of medication through my breast-milk, especially not daily antidepressants!

Back then, 17 years ago, there wasn’t alot of research literature available regarding the risks and safety of different psychotropic medications for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Currently, you can easily access accurate, succinct, and professional consumer information about pregnancy, breastfeeding and psychotropic medications. One valid & reliable website is the website of the Organization of Teratogen Information Specialists. You can take a look at this information and have an informed discussion with your doctor. Another good website is Kathleen Kendall-Tackett’s Uppity Science Chick. And Professor Tom Hale’s Medications and Mother’s Milk is now available in an APP on his Infant Risk website.

So, you can do some research yourself now based on research evidence and experience a “rush of informed.” There are risks to any choice; risks to treating mental illness with medications while pregnant & nursing and risks to leaving depression untreated. But now there is a lot of data out there to look at, and you can make an informed decision along with your doctor.

I can tell you first hand that untreated depression physically and mentally hurts.

Hindsight is 20/20 and I now know I had a lot of known risk factors for postpartum depression. I had a previous depressive episode as a teenager, which coincided with the beginning of menstruation. I just left my job to be a stay-at-home mom, creating a huge identity shift, and we moved 50 miles away to live in a more rural part of New Jersey. So, I was set-up by my life circumstances.

If I had known I was set-up, I could’ve mitigated the effects of my life circumstances. There are proactive, extreme self-care steps I could’ve taken. I know that now.

My first year as a mother was very very painful. I felt as if I was in a black hole, that I couldn’t think or will myself out of. I was ashamed of how I felt. I had strong, irrational feelings of shame stopping me from telling people about myself. My feelings of self-worth were in the gutter. I was tearful and tired. And we did live in the middle of a beautiful wooded area. I was surrounded by beauty and I drank in the serenity of nature but also felt isolated. I wouldn’t say that every day was terrible, but, it was very very difficult. I was very depressed and cried a lot. My husband helped as much as he could, but I didn’t tell him how bad I really felt. He was a great support to me, and I am grateful for that.

Becoming a parent caused a seismic shift in my core self-identity and feelings of self-worth. I did not truly understand what type of pressure it would put on my husband as he turned into the sole breadwinner. I also didn’t fully grasp how vulnerable a woman becomes after having a baby. From personal experience, I finally understood the true personal price (and joys) of motherhood, how small the safety net is in America, and how devalued is the work of mothering and parenting.

And having our son changed our marital relationship forever. The massive love we experienced for our baby was a source of joy. On one hand, we delighted in being a family, in becoming three!

On the other hand, the sleepless nights, the change in finances, our combined identity changes, the massive hormonal fluctuations from pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, plus a basic lack of knowledge about the true nature of babies were all factors in the stress we experienced as we became parents.

Our marriage relationship broadened as we made room for our son, but we also suffered stress as our “we-ness” expanded to “three-ness.” While we were in the thick of having a newborn, there was no time to reflect on how we felt about being parents.

Now we can discuss the differences with the insight of maturity and experience, but then, I was just keeping my head above water, keeping the house clean (ha!), trying to use the La Leche League cookbook for crock-pot recipes for fussy day dinner options (ha!), and sleeping when my baby slept.

Many well-meaning people gave me unsolicited advice, which I suppose they were trying to help. But, I felt confused and stressed as the conflicting advice mounted.

One day, being very lonely in a snow-covered house, I went out to do some mall-walking with my son in a stroller. At one store, the salespeople asked me how old he was. I said eight weeks. They both said, I wouldn’t take such a young baby out, I’d be afraid! I felt criticized and so lonely, and walked away, thinking, where are we to go, my son and me? We are not even welcome in the mall? I cried as I walked along.

Of course I was hyper-sensitive in my depressed state, and took the words of some salespeople in the mall way too seriously! Nutty, huh?

I mean, really, who cares what they think? Wish I had some better cognitive reframing skills back then!

Moms, believe in yourself! Believe in your choices, they are ok. You are ok.

As I fought my way through a deep, core identity change, a shift in social perspective, and postpartum depression, I began to try to make sense of my life.

I read voraciously about mindbody therapies, became certified in shiatsu, acupressure and Reiki. Learning about the mindbody connection was the beginning of my healing journey. I learned about extreme self-care and mind and body awareness & relaxation practices. I studied hypnosis and began teaching childbirth classes, providing as much information and support about the emotions of pregnancy and birth and about the transition to parenthood as best I could to pregnant parents. Eventually, I went to graduate school, with the goal of specializing in the emotions of pregnancy and birth, to create a safe place where women and families could come for support.

So, I would say that with my identity as a mom came my life purpose.

To help people sort through those conflicting, denigrating messages about birth, women, mothering and parenting in our culture. Messages like, be a professional woman, don’t be a professional woman… a mother, oh, well, you’re not really doing it right…..oh, you’re only a mother…etc. Sigh.

To help people sort through that noise, give them some information and help them be okay with themselves. Simple, huh?

Did you have a life-changing experience that moved you on a different path?


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