Archive | Mental Illness RSS feed for this section

We Lost One of Our Own

12 Aug

I don’t subscribe to People magazine.  It’s not that I don’t admire talented actors, authors, politician, and the like.  I do.  But I’m not one to get star-struck in the traditional sense of the word.  I don’t think someone famous has merit simply because of their fame, and I couldn’t be less interested in where they went to eat last Saturday or why their marriage fell apart.

So when a celebrity dies?  I’m never struck in the gut like many of my friends seem to be, filled with outrage or grief. Why is the death of a news anchor from the 50’s or a famous painter more important than that of any other father, son, brother, or friend?  If our inherent value and worth is not dependent on how much we accomplish but instead ingrained in our shared humanity, each death is equally notable, for there are concentric circles of mourning that spread out from the places each person leaves behind.

I tell you all this to explain the shock I find myself facing after learning of Robin Williams’s apparent suicide on Monday morning.  The news found me via twitter late Monday afternoon and was soon impossible to avoid.  And as I read the full story, I found my usual modest sympathy and vague interest replaced by a heavy blanket of sadness.

And today, here I am, contributing to yet another blog post about the death of a celebrity, hoping maybe if I can sort out where this pain springs from that I will feel like I can breathe again.

It wasn’t that he was famous…  Maybe it’s a sense of familiarity I feel obligated to admit to, woven from all he shared of himself with us through his work. Perhaps it’s because when such a talent is snuffed out prematurely, we mourn in part for all the art they will not get to create.  None of that seems to quite fit, though, and I want to be sure I don’t internalize others’ grief.

I see the comments about how “maybe he should have tried harder,” that he “took the easy way out,” or that “he was so successful and seemed so happy,” and I remember believing those very things about depression and suicide.

MedicationsThat stigma? The prejudice? Kept me from seeking treatment for 5 months after my oldest daughter was born. It contributed to my refusal to take medications because I believed they were a sign of weakness.  Ignorance and mental illness conspired to nearly destroy my life.  Like many other things in life, I had to live depression before I could truly understand.

And now. I get it.  Robin Williams was an unwilling member of my community, as we all are.  We lost one of our own.  A warrior from a familiar battlefield – a dark place of such self-loathing and pain that I remember being willing to give anything, ANYTHING, to escape.  I think about the suffering that must have filled his days before depression took his life on August 11th, and I ache with understanding.

So today, I find myself more than a little numb.  I can sense the tears that want to fall and I waver between seeking out the stories and images that will let them loose and protecting myself from the pain, hiding in my work, my children, and a ball of yarn.

I find hope in the stories of my friends, the survivors.  I see you sharing your truths, opening up about something you’ve never been able to say before.  I see courage spreading like the branches of a tree and I catch glimpses of empathy among those who are lucky enough to be untouched by mental illness.  I find hope.

All it takes is a tiny sliver of hope.  You are not alone.  And neither am I.

======================================

If you or someone you know is in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always open.  1-800-273-TALK.  They host an online chat at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.  Help is only a click away.

First and Last: Happy Diamond Anniversary, Postpartum Progress!

7 Jul

Since having children, I find my life is often measured in firsts and lasts.

First poopy diaper, first bath, first words. First steps, and a first day of school.

Last swaddle, last bottle, last diaper.

Each milestone a testament to the bittersweet passage of time, and a common experience among all new mothers.

And then some unique to 15% of us.

First intrusive thought.  First time I screamed at my baby.

Last time I felt like myself.

My time as a new mother is marred by these moments.  Like scars, they fade with time but will never disappear altogether.

First antidepressant pill. First therapy session.

I can accurately recall dates for the onset of each depressive episode and panic attack.  Appointments for hospital visits and therapy sessions are buried in my phone’s archive.  At times it seems that the history of these 5 years is written in the margins of patient files and on the labels of pill bottles.

But as I look back at my journey through PPD, I find moments of light.

First tweet to Lauren Hale.

First visit to Postpartum Progress.

Last time feeling alone.

I wish I could remember which link brought me to Postpartum Progress…that I could point to a date or a website or a moment and bring back the relief I know I must have felt when someone finally told me I was not a bad mother.  I was not a freak.

First blog post.

And though I know I deserve credit for all the hard work of recovery, the simple truth is that I could not have done it without my tribe.  I would not be who I am today without Postpartum Progress, without Katherine Stone.

Last baby.  First joyful birth.

Because of Katherine, I found the doctors I needed to finally have the pregnancy and postpartum period I never knew was possible. Because of Postpartum Progress, I discovered a tribe of women just like me, whose strength and courage filled me when I had none of my own.

First time meeting Katherine.

Last doubt of my calling as an advocate.

And as she has morphed from a Bono-like celebrity in my eyes to a mentor, resource, teammate, and finally friend, I have constantly found myself honored by her presence in my life.

When I think of her impact on my life and multiply it by the TEN YEARS she been advocating for women and families, I am inspired to do more and be more.  You see, Katherine’s gift is that she doesn’t just help women like me.  She doesn’t only provide them with resources and information. She empowers them.

Last shame.

Last regret.

With Katherine by my side, I find myself grateful for where PPD has led me and who it has helped me become.  So when I tell her “thank you,” that really doesn’t even begin to cover it.

She didn’t just save my life.  She gave me a new one.

katherine and me

 

Postpartum progress 10 year

July 13th marks the 10th anniversary of Postpartum Progress.  YOU can help moms just like me by donating to the non-profit by clicking HERE.

You can learn more about Postpartum Progress and our mission HERE.

You can read other Diamond Anniversary Blogathon posts soon!  Link is coming!

Stigma Fighters

2 Jul

I’m thrilled to be a guest over at Stigma Fighters today, writing about how stigma continues to affect me, even 5 years post-diagnosis.

=====================

I’d like to say I’m immune from stigma. After 3 years of blogging about mental health, and 2 years as an advocate, you’d think I’d be able to shake the shame surrounding my diagnoses of postpartum anxiety (and postpartum depression, antenatal depression, postpartum OCD, and generalized anxiety disorder) with ease. And from the outside, it must seem that I do.

I speak freely about my experiences with friends and family. I’ve hosted public events, fundraising and educating my local communities. I write for Postpartum Progress, the most widely-read blog on maternal mood and anxiety disorders. And I’m helping organize and direct an entire conference dedicated to those Warrior Moms who have survived from them.

But what you probably don’t see? Is that when I speak in person about my mental illness, I measure my words carefully, making note of my audience and surroundings before I ever open my mouth. I watch the face of my conversation partner for signs of disgust disguised as pity, and I find myself wondering at times if that mom from playgroup doesn’t ever drop her kid off to play because “she’s afraid I might go cray-zee.”

You see, the only stigma I’m immune to is the one I hold against myself…

======================

To read the rest of the story (you know you want to!) please head on over and say hello at Stigma Fighters.  The work Sarah is doing to raise awareness and change the way the world views mental illness is so important.

Stigma Fighters

Warrior Mom, Climber of Mountains

22 Jun

I slept for almost 13 hours last night after climbing 4.2 miles and 4,300 feet up to the summit of Mt Washington for Climb Out of the Darkness yesterday. 13 glorious hours. And as I massage my sore muscles, I am struck by the fact that I just accomplished an amazing feat.

In the last five years, I have struggled with three lumbar disc ruptures, a neck strain that sent me to physical therapy, and have been diagnosed with kidney disease. I have birthed two babies, leaving my core in ruins and with little time or energy to care for myself. And I have found myself fighting to love my body where it is while also wanting it to be better – stronger and more healthy.

Conditioned by society and pop culture, despite the wisdom of my rational mind, I have pulled and tugged at my stomach, cursed my thighs, and wondered how I would ever teach my girls to love their own bodies, when I could find only criticism for mine.

But today, in the shadow of yesterday’s glory, I am inspired by what my body was able to do and the courage it took to continue up the mountain. One rock at a time, I ascended 4,300 feet into the clouds. Though my back ached and my legs wobbled beneath me, I pressed on, honoring my body’s strength for the first time in a very long time. I am filled with gratitude for each and every pound that carried me up the hills and traversed the ravine.

As I crawled up the final push yesterday, I said out loud, “this is for every morning I thought I couldn’t get out of bed. For that moment when motherhood so overwhelmed me that I wanted to run away and leave it all behind.”

I have always been a Warrior Mom. Now, I’m also a mountain climber. Watch out world, there’s nothing I can’t do.

20140622-110742.jpg

Melissa and Juli, Andrew and Saige, and my husband Adam. I could not have done it without your support. Thank you.

You can learn more about Climb Out of the Darkness HERE.

I’m Back

11 Jun

Recently, I stood in a public space for four hours and advertised my experience with postpartum depression and anxiety. You would think that after years of blogging about how I suffered, I’d be used to speaking about PPD, but there’s something unique about face-to-face interactions.

b.good benefitMy local b.good restaurant was kind enough to host a benefit night that my new friend and fundraising partner, Candice, cleverly named “Take a Bite Out of Stigma.”  We felt so professional, with our glossy signs and our fancy raffle tickets, and I’m convinced we appeared professional as we greeted customers, shared b.good tattoos (fake, I promise!) with the kids, and spoke about PPD.  But deep down?  There was a part of me that wanted to shrink back from the arena, that wanted to hide behind the 15 latex balloons that announced our presence.

But then?  Then my local bestie walked through the doors and I found myself squeeeeeeeing and running to hug her.  An older gentleman stepped through the doors only to walk back out and stand at our poster, reading carefully through the information, returning later to hand me a twenty dollar bill with only a few words exchanged.  I met moms who had a multitude of questions about PPD.  I saw old friends and heard about how I was inspiring people.  And I sat with Candice and we talked about our common hell over milkshakes and strawberry lemonade.

We walked out with over $250 for Postpartum Progress, a new partnership with a great local company, and a feeling of empowerment and sisterhood.

And now?  Now we have a new video promoting our Climb Out of the Darkness and the faces of our warrior moms, with an up-and-coming musician.

Special thanks to David Gray for the use of his beautiful new song.  It speaks right to the hearts of the Warrior Moms.  We?  Are BACK.  I have watched this as least 2 dozen times and it still gives me goosebumps.

You can donate to Climb Out of the Darkness HERE.  Those are the faces of your wives, your sisters, your daughters.  You neighbors, your childrens’ teachers.  Your mother.  Honor their recovery by supporting the recovery of moms just like them.

————————————-

All local donors can be entered to win our amazing local raffle, including a night tour of Wallace Observatory!

All non-local donors are entered to win a $20 gift certificate to my Etsy shop, Crocheted Happiness!

Love Is An Open Door: A Thank You Video

1 Jun

Thank you so much to all the Climb Out of the Darkness sponsors. As promised, my husband and perform Love Is An Open Door from Frozen. Poorly. I am not a trained singer (you’ll have to excuse the lack of costume.  Our recording window was short as were our resources).

PPD and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (postpartum OCD, postpartum anxiety, postpartum psychosis, and antenatal depression and anxiety) affect 1 in 7 women yet only 15% seek treatment. Stigma and shame keep new moms from reach out, while under-trained physicians miss the warning signs. Postpartum Progress, Inc is a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to increasing awareness of maternal mood and anxiety disorders. Together, we can drop kick despair.

LEARN more about Postpartum Progress http://postpartumprogress.org

LEARN about Climb Out of the Darkness at http://www.postpartumprogress.com/join-climb-out-of-the-darkness-2014

DONATE to my Mt. Washington #COTD2014 team at https://www.crowdrise.com/susanpetcher-COTD2014/fundraiser/susanpetcher

FIND A CLIMB near you at http://postpartumprogress.org/climb-out-of-the-darkness/find-a-climb/

COTD2014

I’m a Boston Mama

27 May

If you need me, I’ll just be over here, fanning myself and trying to get over the fact that Christine Koh of Boston Mamas lent me some blogging real-estate this past week to talk about Postpartum Progress and Climb Out of the Darkness.

My five-year-old daughter bounded into my bed this morning, dashing my hopes of a few more winks of sleep with her Tigger-like enthusiasm. And as I returned her hugs and kisses, I cherished the small moment of happiness between us. Because there was a time when I could not return her love, when the gift of bonding was stolen from us both….

Please click on over to Boston Mamas to read more.

And if you haven’t donated yet to my Climb Out team?  This is a great time. Our fundraising website is giving away several prizes in June, including an iPad mini, Jawbone Jambox, and Reef Sandals!

Click to donate to Climb out of the Darkness, Mt. Washington

Therapy, Spring Cleaning, and An Update

23 Apr

Doodlebug

Almost 2 months ago, I wrote about taking my eldest daughter to counseling.  It’s a hard thing to start, counseling – at least it was for me 5 years ago when I began treatment for my postpartum depression.  All I knew of therapy was what I had seen on television and in pop culture, and neither was particularly flattering.

I believed that seeking therapy showed weakness.  Deficiency.  Now I know it shows strength.  It takes courage to admit that things are not as they should be as you want them to be.  What surprised me was the amount of bravery required to see the process through.

For me, it was kind of like cleaning out a long-neglected closet.  First, you take everything out.  You dig to the bottom of boxes and bins.  You spread the clutter throughout the room and it feels like you’re going backward – making more of a mess instead of cleaning up.  It’s at that precise moment you consider just scooping up armfuls of momentos, lost buttons, and dirty socks and  closing them back in the boxes they emerged from.  Maybe you can pretend you never saw them.  But instead, you take a deep breath and make a conscious choice to move forward.  As each item crosses you hands, you make a decision.  You process what it means to you and you decide how to let it further affect your life.  This goes in the garbage.  That gets put away on a shelf.  And maybe this other thing was something you had been desperately searching for.

It’s laborious.  Tedious.  Emotional.  And some days, I left therapy feeling worse than when I went in.  And then?  One day things started to feel less overwhelming.  It was like that moment when you place the last organized bin in the neglected closet and the doors shut for the first time in years, and you think maybe, just maybe, you can tackle another room.

So.  I was prepared for a process when my daughter began working with her counselor.  I was prepared for things to get worse before they got better, and I was ready for it to take a while.  As it turns out, she’s made incredible progress in the last 8 weeks.  Her outbursts are fewer and less intense.  She can identify her emotions and use her words to share about them.  And most importantly, she’s learned to ask for help.

It’s honestly been an amazing transformation, and I can’t rationally give all the credit to 6 therapy appointments, no matter how much I like and respect her therapist.  At the recommendation of several friends and family, despite my intense skepticism, we substituted almond milk for cow’s milk in our house.  Some of you suggested that a food allergy or intolerance could manifest as behavioral problems.  Doodlebug suffered from MSPI as a baby, and I assumed she outgrew it as the physical symptoms disappeared after about 18 months.  Because of her history with milk intolerance and her sister’s current inability to drink milk, I thought it was worth a try. She’s well-nourished, so what could it hurt?

Now, maybe the counseling gave her a sense of connectedness and belonging that she was missing.  Or maybe, like many things, her behavioral changes were just part of a phase.  Perhaps she matured neurologically in the last 8 weeks and everything I’ve done to help her only appears to have worked because of coincidence.  This is not hard science, and I’m not prepared to test my theories by handing her a giant glass of milk and waiting for the fireworks to begin.  I’m happy to just be glad things are better and to be mindful of what may have helped.

We’re taking a break from therapy for a while – she and I both know it’s there if we need it.  And my daughter knows it’s nothing to be ashamed of or to fear.

What a gift I’ve given her, normalizing something that was so traumatic and stigmatizing for me.

I’m kind of proud of myself.

Now if I could only find time to work on those closets.

 

Click here to donate to my Climb Out of the Darkness Hike!

Click here to donate to my Climb Out of the Darkness Hike!

Letting Go of the Guilt

4 Apr

I’m over at Postpartum Progress this week with three posts.  Last night, I remembered that I hadn’t yet written a third post for the week, so I dragged my exhausted self to the keyboard and just started typing.  What spilled out turned out to be exactly what I needed to write.

“I suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety with a side of OCD for two years after my first child was born.  And though I sought treatment and began my path to wellness after my baby had her 5 month birthday, it took every last day of that additional 19 months for me to feel like I wasn’t waiting for the other shoe to drop.  If you asked my husband, he’d tell you now that I’ve completely recovered from my PPD and from the antenatal depression that hit when my second child was still baking.  But he’d also tell you that I still suffer.”

I hope you’ll join me over at Katherine Stone’s place to read the rest and find out how I’ve battled the guilt that followed my severe PPD.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 3.08.38 PM

Click the image to DONATE to my Climb Out of the Darkness hike!

Climb Out of the Darkness 2014

2 Apr

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 3.08.38 PM

I’ve written extensively about my experiences suffering from postpartum depression, postpartum OCD, and antenatal depression and anxiety.  I don’t shy away from telling how devastating my first couple of years as a mother were, both for me and my family.  And I’ve told you how I found myself severely depressed when I was only 7 weeks pregnant with my second baby.

Today, I’m asking for your help.  I’m asking for you to support my work as an advocate for moms, for babies, and for families.

Postpartum Progress, and its founder Katherine Stone, were instrumental in my path to wellness.  Because of Katherine, I found an amazing doctor who gave me the tools (and the medications) to make my second pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum experiences joyful.  Because of Katherine, I found support from mothers just like me.  Because of Katherine, I found my voice as an advocate and writer.

Postpartum Progress is growing, taking on new challenges and projects, and is as dedicated as ever to decreasing stigma and increasing awareness of antenatal and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.  And that?  Takes money.

15-20% of all women will get a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder like postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. That’s 1 in every 7, more than the number of women who will get breast cancer.  That’s your mother, your sister, your daughter, your friend.  And quite possibly, you.

Please help me help new moms by donating to my Climb Out of the Darkness hike!  I’ll be climbing Mt. Washington with a team of women from Massachusetts and New Hampshire in June!  Yup, climbing a mountain.  Me.  Because that’s how much I love Katherine and believe in what Postpartum Progress is doing for women all over the world.

If you can’t donate, please pass this along.  Ask your friends, family, neighbors.  Let them know there is an army of Warrior Moms hiking in solidarity in June on the Summer Solstice.  Together we can drop kick despair.

%d bloggers like this: