Last year I wrote here about my initial experience with the VA during my pregnancy with Austin. So many of you reached out and helped me make my voice heard online and the VA eventually heard me and decided to treat me throughout my pregnancy again. Dealing with their mental healthcare system hasn’t been easy since I gave birth a year ago. It’s been manageable, but it’s been a process that has challenged me significantly. Continue reading
Confession: My greatest fear is that I will lose my life to suicide. I don’t say that to be melodramatic, I simply state it as a fact. As a person living with bipolar disorder, it is a fear that silently … Continue reading
When I came home bone tired and emotional from Climb Out of the Darkness 2014 on Saturday, my husband met me at the door, wrapped his arms around me and held me tight. As I let myself sink into the … Continue reading
A few months ago, I wrote a letter to Miriam Carey, the mother who lost her life after a chase with police at our nation’s Capitol. After her death it was revealed that she suffered from some form of mental illness, possibly triggered by postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis. In that letter I made her and her daughter a promise: that I would do better, do everything in my power to make it so that mothers like her, like myself, don’t suffer in silence, nor fall through the cracks of the healthcare system in our country. I promised her that I would continue to be a voice crying out for those in our communities to take our mental health seriously and to seek treatment-even if it felt like I was speaking in a silo, into the wind, and no one was listening. I promised I’d do better so her daughter wouldn’t be ashamed to seek mental health help if she ever needs it as she grows older.
I’ve been working very hard since then to live up to that promise, even if it just involves me being completely honest here about where I’m at mentally. I haven’t erased my YouTube videos, even though I haven’t updated it in months and regret that I haven’t seen that project through like I wanted. I do, however have other projects in the works that hopefully I will see through and that will help me carry out my promise to her in tangible, impactful ways.
I WILL be a change agent.
When I was thinking of writing this post-what I wanted to say about why I volunteer my time and resources to Postpartum Progress, and why I’m asking for your support, I thought of Miriam, my promise, and then I thought of myself.
I thought back to January 2011. I don’t remember the exact date but I remember it was nighttime, and I was sitting in the dark, crying as I sat in front of my laptop typing words into Google search. I had spent the previous hour sitting on my bathroom floor, envisioning my family coming in and finding me bleeding to death in the bathtub. I’d been having suicidal and intrusive thoughts for over a week, and was exhausted from the mental strain and impact of severe shifts and cycles in mood. I remember thinking about the people in my life who had told me that either nothing was wrong with me or that I was suffering because I wasn’t “living right.” No one could explain why I was feeling insanity dance within me, and no one understood because I could barely articulate what it was that was happening to me.
I remember feeling the exhaustion settling in deep within my bones, overtaking any resolve that remained. So there I was, Googling what I thought were my symptoms. The first link in the search results was Postpartum Progress. I spent the next 3 hours reading everything there: posts, comments, the “Plain Mama English” guides that outlined the symptoms of perinatal mood disorders. I remember crying as I read everything, realizing that I finally had an explanation for what I had been enduring since even before I gave birth to Alex. The rage…the sadness…the anxiety…the compulsions…the intrusive thoughts…the guilt…there it all was, laid out for me in black and white on the screen.
I emailed Katherine Stone, the founder. She emailed me back, encouraging me to seek help and telling me that no, I wasn’t crazy, and yes, I would get better, and there as hope for me. She directed me to the Postpartum Stress Center in PA where I eventually started treatment.
Hope and a lifeline. She and Postpartum Progress had given me both.
Postpartum depression and related illnesses like postpartum anxiety, ocd, and psychosis, are the most common complications of childbirth, impacting 1 in 7 women, and at a higher rate of 1 in 4 women in minority, lower-income, & impoverished communities every year. Suicide is among the leading causes of death among new mothers every year. (As I mentioned above, it nearly took MY life) With these kinds of grim stats in mind, Postpartum Progress has grown from just a blog, to a non-profit laser focused on improving the maternal mental health of women worldwide through a variety of programs.
For example, in the next 24 months, Postpartum Progress will be updating and expanding the blog including a Spanish language version, creating a video PSA, and starting the development of a mobile app that supports moms through PPD and related illnesses.
These are the kinds of initiatives that Climb Out of the Darkness is designed to help fund. Climb Out of the Darkness is THE first event of its kind: one designed to spread awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and help fund Postpartum Progress’ efforts to reach every mother, in every community, on every socioeconomic level.
I’m joining mothers all over the world-there are climbs in London, New Zealand, Canada, and South America-to raise money over the next 48 days that will help Postpartum Progress help every mother and their families have the strong start they deserve.
I did it last year to honor my experience and ascent out of the darkness I found myself in that night in 2011. This year, I’m leading a team of survivors here in Austin, and I’m doing it for Miriam. I’m doing it for the other women who have lost their lives in the last 12 months to suicide. I’m doing it for the mothers in communities that lack access to adequate mental health resources, for the mothers who have no insurance, who are at risk and don’t know there’s hope and help. For the mothers who are ignorant of the facts and range of their symptoms because their OB doesn’t have adequate information in their brochures on PPD. For the mothers who just think that PPD is nothing more than being sad and doesn’t understand why she has scary thoughts or full-blown rage she’s never in her life experienced up until this time in her life.
Some quick facts on PPD and related illnesses:
- PPD and related illnesses happen to ONE MILLION WOMEN in the US alone each year.
Only 15% of moms with PPD and related illnesses ever get professional help. That means there are more than a half a million mothers (in the US alone) each year who have not gotten any help.
The National Research Council reports that untreated PPD is associated with impaired mother-infant bonding and long-term negative effects on the child’s emotional behavior and cognitive skills, lasting into adolescence and adulthood. The Urban Institute says the biggest tragedy of this illness is that it is treatable and thus we could be preventing the damage it has on so many mothers and children.
The annual cost of lost income and productivity in the US of not treating mothers with depression is $4-5 billion.
Let’s not lose any more mothers to these very treatable illnesses. Let’s eradicate the shame associated with these illnesses that keep so many from seeking treatment. Would you consider a $10 or $20 donation this week? Team Austin’s goal is to first raise $500, and then stretch to $1k. We’re over 60% of the way to $500. Help us get there?
Thank you SO much for your support. Seriously. You’re helping us save lives. You’re helping us save the other Miriams & A’Driane’s out in this world.
To join a climb in your area, click this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/COTD2014
To donate to our team here in Austin, click this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/addyeB-COTD2014/fundraiser/addyeB
To read my latest post over at Postpartum Progress, go here: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/postpartum-anxiety-comes-back
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. Please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.
“And everybody know the story of David and Goliath But this is bigger than triumph This is for the warrior, this is for you and I This is for euphoria, give me a piece of mind God is recording … Continue reading
I’ve been in a depressive episode for nearly 8 weeks. The decline has been gradual. There have been good days scattered throughout, but I’ve been edgy, tense, fatigued….my mind has been too loud some days, eerily silent during others. I’ve been crying off and on in my bathroom to hide my breaking from my kids…in my car as I drive from one errand to the next. I’ve had to shift to auto-pilot to just get through hard moments, root myself in detachment to keep from getting swallowed up by the stress. I’ve spent the last two weeks cycling rapidly between hypomania (marked mostly by agitation and a mind packed with too many thoughts), and a dragging depression that swallows me up and sends me into its belly for a few moments then spits me back out into the sun and air where I can breathe again. And then everything’s still and quiet…I feel “normal” and then the cycle repeats itself hourly, daily, weekly….and so it’s been for nearly 2 months now. Rinse. Settle. Repeat.
I’m still in that critical postpartum window. I just weaned nearly a month ago. My body and hormones are in flux and adjusting as a result. I hate it.
Stress is both motivating and crippling for me. I can handle 10 things going on all at once with ease. It’s once the 11th shows up demanding my attention that my mind starts to split and scatter off into darker corners. I think about my life these days and chide myself with all kinds of “should” statements for feeling and being overwhelmed by all I manage on a day-to-day basis: baby is teething & raging, middle child with special needs, oldest was just diagnosed with ADHD and his enthusiasm for school has waned significantly, trying to overhaul our home and parenting lifestyles to accommodate and support their needs (like increasing structure and making our home more sensory friendly), supporting my husband while he deals with stress at work. New therapy schedules, trips to the pediatrician, and comprehensive psychometric testing have dominated our lives over the past month. Up ahead there is more testing to be done, and meetings with the school district to discuss accommodations for Brennan and evaluations and placement for Alex who is gearing up for preK this fall…
It’s not all stressful. I’m involved in birthing great projects. I’m taking my mom’s advice on avoiding burnout by feeding my spirit so I don’t fall prey to losing myself, you know? I’ve joined writing & art communities online, I’m painting at 11pm, I’ve signed up for retreats and writing eCourses, done a couple of write-ins with groups, and I’ve done a juice cleanse to try to reset my body and mind. I’m re-reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown as well as books on painting, sensory processing disorder, creativity, and feminism. I’m trying to find my way here still, in this space as far as my writing is concerned. I’m trying to learn how to embody all the parts of myself that have come alive over the past few years-artist, writer, advocate-in the midst of the daily demands on my person and time as a mother and wife. I’m trying to bloom where I’m planted. At 31, it’s still a stumbling process though.
I’m searching for my flow amidst the rhythms, rocking and swaying as the ebb and flow of my life’s current carries me throughout my days. But the stress of everything gets triggering and I find myself cycling with the ebb and flow as a result sometimes. That’s when my knees buckle and my head spins. My chest constricts and my brain starts to feel like it’s suffocating. My grip gets weak. Fatigue sets in and my steps forward get heavy. Taking care of myself gets harder, and usually becomes the last checked off item on my must do list-if it’s checked off at all. I end each day feeling as though I have no safe place to come up for air and just process my thoughts, fears, and anxiety…I end most days feeling unsettled and bottled up, stuffed to capacity and as I close my eyes to sleep I’ve found myself starting to pray like Jabez, asking God or whoever is listening for an increase in capacity…in ability…in might…
My hair is pink again with some blue added for extra fun. My hair and color are always my first lines of defense against the disorder of my brain chemistry and mood.
I visited my psychiatrist last week at the VA. This is another area that I can’t seem to find solid footing. We’ve lived here for nearly two years and I’m on my 3rd psychiatrist. Obtaining talk therapy has been a fail. The appointment scheduling system here is confusing and useless to me because I have very little say in what days and times fit into my schedule that’s already inundated with the kid’s school and therapies. I’ve had to fight to get treated, and I’m constantly having to say “but if you read this and go here, research and experts agree that….”. I feel lost in a system that I’m constantly told is for me to use and that I should trust. But the bureaucracy I face with nearly every interaction chips away at that trust. I have no confidence in my mental health care these days, in the professionals assigned to my care. And yet, at my appointment last week, I sat in front of her desk and allowed myself to become undone. Completely and unapologetically. I unloaded nearly 24 months of thoughts and stress right there in her office in 20 minutes while my smiling baby squirmed and cooed in my arms. She listened to every word. Asked some questions that dug a little deeper. Apologized for all the trouble with the system I’ve had and for not really hearing me 6 weeks ago when I told her my anxiety was becoming a problem. She admitted that lack of knowledge about medications while breastfeeding restricted her ability to really give me what I was needing. We decided now that I’m no longer pregnant and breastfeeding we could get more aggressive with my meds again-go back to finding a more therapeutic dose. So over the next two months I’ll be doing that-going up on lamictal and prozac and trying out an additional med for anxiety. I started the increase yesterday. I’m hoping by the end of the week my brain and mood will start to grab ahold and adjust accordingly.
I’ve struggled today to pick everything back up and keep walking. To push past and through. To square my shoulders and lift my chin. To turn a deaf ear to the tape playing in my head that has all kinds of lies and frenzied talk on a loop.
But I’m doing it-picking up and pushing. I’m moving forward. Slowly. The sun is shining outside despite the cold front that’s moved through. I’m working my way out into the sun, breathing in deep as I go.
I just need to get this out because it’s burning hot in my bones like fire, my soul wants to just scream and wail but it can’t because doing so will terrify my children.
I’ve been thinking all day about how we’ve lost another person, another woman of color to suicide and mental illness. The more I’ve thought about how we lost Karyn Washington to suicide, the angrier I get. I’m talking SEETHING. I’m talking a white-hot, blinding rage that just wants to go tearing through things as it travails in mourning. I’m talking a rage that causes my teeth to ache from a clenched jaw and gnashing.
I. am. ANGRY.
I. am. MOURNING.
I. am. HEARTBROKEN.
I didn’t know her, but I didn’t have to. She was my sister, a fellow woman of color, a writer, a voice, a human being dedicated to uplifting her people. And she is gone. Suicide came and took her from us and I’m here grieving like she was my own daughter gone from me.
I’m fed up with the stigma that permeates minority communities and takes the lives of our people-as if we already don’t have enough fucking things that are killing and destroying us. I’m enraged at the lack of resources available to us. Our people are living and suffering from all types of ‘hood trauma all across this country, and have been for decades, centuries, even and our mental health isn’t taken seriously and addressed.
Our people are left for dead and to waste away in their minds.
Our churches-the cornerstones in our communities don’t adequately address mental illness-we keep perpetuating this “I’m too blessed to be stressed” bootstrappin bullshit that’s basically the equivalent to handing us a razor to slice our wrists open with.
Black men are conditioned to believe they have to be hard, and in reality, it’s true-they MUST be and live hard because society views them as inhuman and unworthy of even being able to walk to the corner store or listen to music in their cars in peace.
Black women are conditioned to bear a resilient silence-our mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, and grandmothers have to be so strong for everyone else without a not so much of an utterance as to how such a burden is eroding at our thought life and well-being.
I’m disgusted that the mental health advocate community has a major diversity problem. I’m tired of POC not being seen and heard on mental health platforms like our white counterparts. I’m tired of seeing awareness campaigns full of nothing but white faces, and quality treatment facilities and practices in the white neighborhoods, with even sliding scale fees only white people can afford.
I’m tired of hearing our people say that therapy and medication “are for white people.” I’m tired of our mamas not knowing what perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are and how they can manifest over the first year of their baby’s life-ON TOP of all the other shit they’re dealing with that can contribute to depression, PTSD, and anxiety. I’m tired of our mamas not knowing the risk factors for developing such disorders during and following pregnancy-especially when previous trauma and violence are the top risk factors.
My heart bleeds for the Karyns. The Miriams. The Ebony Wilkersons. The Don Cornelius’. The Lee Thompson Youngs. My heart rages for them, and I wonder when their mental health will become a priority. When will the psychiatrist or licensed social worker graduating from school decide to go set up shop where our people live and listen to their stories. Educate us. Chip away at the stigma that has become a death sentence?
Who will help us? People of color, when will we speak up about our own struggles with mental illness and light the way for our own? Can it be today?
Please tell me we can start today. I can’t bear the pain of losing any more of you to this selfish son of bitch.
If you are struggling today and having thoughts of suicide, please DO NOT hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately. Call 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433) or 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) .
One of the writing communities I’m a part of holds weekly write-ins via video conference. While I’ve been a member of this community since early last year, tonight was my first time participating in one as it was happening. By the time I joined the conference, everyone was reading their responses to the first prompt “When do you feel heard?”, and blowing. my. mind. like. WHOA.
We were given 30 minutes for our 2nd prompt and here’s what I finally word vomited after wanting to throw my paper, pen, and laptop out my back door.
Prompt: “Show Me Your Brave”
I hold them in the palm of my hand never knowing if they’ll be enough to keep me through the next 24 hours. I stare at them intently, as if my gaze alone can make it so that they do. I tilt my head back, close my eyes, and pause as this unknowing whispers my own doubts back to me, louder than the why I must in spite of. It’s in this nanosecond of a moment that fear always roars its loudest, reminding me of what exists within, and its capacity for destruction. I feel the darkness, I smell the fire, I hear the frantic call of madness, the hollow wail of despair and I wonder if 150mg is enough for 24 more hours. My hands shake as I swallow each one and bring the cup to my lips to further assist them on their way down.
It’s the only way to find out.
*to learn more about The Story Unfolding & Story Sessions writing community, click here*
Dear Miriam, My head and heart have been reeling since your death. Upon seeing your picture and hearing details emerge about your struggles mentally and hospitalization, I sat crumpled in my bathroom, sobbing for you, your daughter, and for myself.
You see, I saw your face, your brown skin, and I saw a reflection of myself-a mother battling a mental illness. Having lived in the darkness of postpartum depression I know the hopelessness, fear, confusion, and pain that consumes you from the inside out. Although I’ve never experienced psychosis, I have and do experience the chaos, scattered and fragmented thoughts, paranoia, and such that comes at times with having bipolar disorder. I know that my having such a mood disorder puts me at a much more significant risk of psychosis postpartum, and that terrifies me. Like you, I’ve been hospitalized, trapped in my own mind, wandering the halls and monotony of the psych ward, getting help, but also wanting OUT and have some sense of normalcy back…whatever’s left of it in your life at least.
I know how triggering and taxing an unplanned pregnancy can be on your psyche, even when you’ve accepted and embraced the new life growing within you. I know the disconnect you can feel once you’re holding that new life in your arms minutes after delivery and long after you’ve been sent home. I know how difficult those first few months can be, and even that first year. And I know what it’s like to need help, be in treatment, but not have anyone you can really talk to about it, no one who “gets” the upheaval your mind and well-being is in. I know what it’s like to have to live with mental illness for the rest of your life. I know what it’s like to have to make a conscious choice to fight for your life daily, and being too tired to make that choice most days. I know the stigma that comes with being sick, and taking medications. I know side effects and having to rely on meds is exhausting and at times can chip away at your feelings of self-worth, and leave you doubting your capabilities to mother, to accomplish goals and dreams…to LIVE.
I know all of these things and that is why I sat in my bathroom crying for you…for me…for your daughter, and for my unborn son squirming in my belly.
After my tears came questions: were you getting help after your hospitalization? Were your boyfriend, mother, and sisters supportive? Did they encourage you to stick with treatment-were they themselves educated on your meds and illnesses? Did you have a therapist and adequate access to other mental health resources? Did you have anyone, ANYONE to talk to? Were you afraid to talk to anyone? Were you compliant in your treatment? Did you decide to stop treatment because you figured you could do it on your own, or were you pressured to by those around you? Did anyone tell you the dangers of quitting meds cold turkey or talk to you about weaning? Were you given speeches about bootstraps and soldiering on? Did your doctor think you were getting better and miss something? Were you even properly diagnosed and given the right kind of treatment? What led you to DC that day? WHAT HAPPENED?
I know that because you are no longer with us to tell your story, we won’t ever really have the answers to these questions-we won’t ever know the full truth. My heart aches with this knowledge. My heart breaks that the events that took place unfolded the way that they did and that your life was taken.
Since your death I’ve seen lots of discussion in the media about the state of your mental health, and lots of misinformation and a lack of distinction between postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, which is what it appears to be that you might have suffered from, or possibly some other form of mental illness. I’ve seen anger and outrage over how the police responded to your actions, and calls for an investigation on their use of force policy. I’ve seen what happened to you become politicized and I’ve seen people make ugly, disgusting comments about you, a woman they’ve never met.
I’ve seen all of this and all I can think about is your precious daughter. When I do anger wells up in me and boils, but not for any of the reasons I see it embodying others. My anger is with our community, with our people. I’m angry that within the black community there is no focus placed on our mental well-being and on mental illness. We fight to quell violence and hardship in our communities but do little to nothing to fight for resources that can help us deal with the mental impact violence, abuse, and hardship has on us. We don’t talk to our children about mental illness, other than to point to “Crazy Ray” who lives down the street and further cement stigma about mental illness in their minds. We are misinformed and uneducated. We are ignorant. We think therapy and medications are for whites only. We are held hostage by a code of silence that throughout our history has kept us safe and helped us survived but is now killing us. Our churches tell us to pray more, have more faith, live right, strive for prosperity…but say nothing about the mental illness that is often quietly sitting amongst us in our congregations.
We will fight for Trayvon and for our black boys. We will march against those who believe it’s better to close our schools and build more prisons. We will rage at police brutality and systemic racism across the board. But when it comes to our mental health and the facts on mental illness, particularly for the WOMEN’S mental health, we are cold…silent…apathetic…hushed…disbelieving and ignorant of the science and biological roots of mental illness and how vital a role environmental factors play in the manifestation of illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Our national black leaders and organizations speak little on this issue and make no demands for change. I would go as far as to say it’s not even on their radar or list of priorities. Narratives and dialogue on mental health in our communities is driven and dominated mostly by white advocates. Those of us who live with mental illness and choose to face the stigma within our community and society at large often aren’t given the same platforms and amplification as white advocates. Our outrage and concern for other issues drown out suicide prevention and mental health awareness. Campaigns and efforts are not targeted at us, in OB offices we don’t see our faces on pamphlets on PPD or other perinatal mood disorders, and our doctors rarely screen us effectively for it. Medicaid provisions often keep our single mothers from being able to get adequate treatment and access to resources on the mental health front. (I speak from experience)
All of this…has me angry. Has me raging on the inside, and pushes me to do more with the space I have here. As a woman and mother of color with bipolar disorder who has survived PPD, I look at you, your daughter, and what happened, and the role mental illness might or might not have played in this, and I rage and I feel a responsibility. To your memory and most importantly to your daughter who witnessed such horrific violence that day, I feel an obligation to do more, say more, fight for better within our community. Others can rage and decry the actions of the police if that’s what they feel is most important. Speaking from experience I can say that law enforcement officials are not adequately trained on how to respond to situations when a possibly mentally ill person is involved. But I will rage and decry the lack of education and honest dialogue about mental illness on a national level and within our own community. I will rage and push for you so that your daughter and other women of color get educated and aren’t ashamed to get help. I will rage against the “strong black woman” archetype that keeps so many of us from acknowledging we need help and treatment on this front. I will speak up, I will fight, I will advocate for you so that your death will not have been in vain.
I will do this because I know, Miriam, what it’s like to be touched by madness and struggle to survive in its death grip. I will do this because your story and your death have shown me that its past time we rise up, get real, and take responsibility for our mental health….and take action. I will step up Miriam. I will continue to speak in the vacuum until our stories and experiences with mental illness are heard and taken seriously instead of dismissed or trivialized.
I’m so sorry we lost you. I’m so sorry you lost yourself. I’m so sorry your daughter will no longer have you. I’m sorry we couldn’t do better by you both. But know that now? We will.
It’s okay to have a mental illness…
…to need medication, even more than one, to manage it.
….to see a therapist for it.
…..to feel weak for having such shitty brain chemistry.
….to hate it for the impact it has on you, your relationships, your quality of life, your self-esteem, your perception of yourself and your worth.
….to be grateful for it for what it has taught you about yourself, your limits, your capabilities, your strengths…and for how it’s changed you.
…..to be scared because you have it, and to worry about everything that comes with it from the stigma it carries to the side effects of the medications you take.
….to be a parent with one. To want to have children, and have one, or many, despite living with one.
…..to take the safest medications possible for it during pregnancy and breastfeeding if that’s a choice you and your psychiatrist make.
….to be jealous of those who don’t have one, of their “normal” states.
…..to be resentful of your spouse because they don’t understand what it’s like for you to live with it daily.
…..to hurt for your spouse or loved one because you know what it’s like to live with it daily and you wish you could shield them from that part of you, spare them from seeing how deep your darkness can go or how high your brain can fly, and spare them the hurt the difficulty and weight of how heavy and distressing it can be to witness.
…..to love your spouse or loved one for standing by you as you manage the ups and downs, the nuances, the cracks and crevices of it.
….to be honest with your kids about it.
….to be yourself, to live your life fully, to create the life you want to live despite having it.
……to not let it define you.
……to embrace the parts of it that can help you grow, and learn, and empathize.
…….to feel strong because of it.
……to love yourself in spite of it.
It’s okay to have a mental illness. Don’t let anyone shame you for it. Don’t let stigma keep you silent and held hostage by it. It’s okay. As hard as it is, as dark as it can get, it doesn’t diminish who you are or what you’re capable of. It’s okay. It’s not your fault. Ever.
So take a deep, full breath, and say it out loud: “It’s okay.”