Climbing Out of The Darkness

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.

Real Talk: I’m F—ing Sick of Suicide and Mental Illness Killing Our People

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) . 

Accept It. Own It. Tell It: Your Story Could Save Someone’s Life

It’s National Suicide Prevention Week.  It started yesterday, Sunday, September 4th. Someone committed suicide early yesterday morning. Known to many in the marketing & social media fields, Trey Pennington took his own life, leaving many to question why, and leaving people he “knew” online and in real life in complete shock over news of his death.

I never met Trey Pennington. Having been a social media consultant, I only know of him and his work in the field. I don’t know what drove him to take his own life, I don’t know what he suffered from internally….I don’t know his story. But I wish I did. I wish I did know his story, I wish he could have shared his story with someone & got the help he needed before he left this life. Perhaps if he had shared some of his story and it included struggling with a mental illness or mood disorder, I could have shared mine somehow with him, through a comment or message, to let him know that he’s not alone, and he doesn’t have to suffer alone. I would have told him about Band Back Together, a place where you can safely tell your story without worrying about fear or judgement from others…..

I never knew Trey Pennington personally. But I did know people who did take their lives, both friends & family members. I’ve considered taking my own life as a teen and even in my adult years…

I’m saying all of that and I’m sharing the fact that I myself have considered ending my life at certain times because that’s part of my story, part of my life experience. I posted this on Facebook the other night and I believe it with everything in me:

 It’s not enough to just own your story-you’ve got to TELL it. In fact, part of owning your story IS telling it. That’s where the power lies in transparency-in the telling and sharing of your experiences. That’s what helps people, that’s what robs shame of it’s power, that’s what gives issues a face and a voice instead of a shadowy stigma…..Whatever your stories are people, tell them. I believe for every story/experience that needs to be told, there is someone who needs and wants to hear it. Let’s start sharing the things that really matter…

When we go through things in life, whether they be trivial or traumatic, it’s imperative that we do what’s necessary to first deal with the effects it has on us, heal from whatever it is, then accept it. And I think that’s what a good amount of people do. But that’s ALL they do. They stop at the healing and acceptance part. To many of us don’t go on to share our story with someone else. Oh don’t get me wrong, we give advice, we give people our opinions & suggestions on something going on in their lives, but we don’t dig deeper in the well of empathy & reveal enough of ourselves, so that the person we’re talking to feels like they aren’t alone in what they’re facing. Does that make sense?

Or if we do share, we are selective who we share our stories with. I know we have to protect ourselves to a degree, and maybe I sound idealistic & young here, but where’s the compassion for people? What happened to reaching out? Maybe if we created & fostered safe, compassionate, healing, & empathetic environments for our children, our family members, our friends, the guy who sits next to me in church, the woman in the cubicle next to me, etc, maybe we wouldn’t have to have an entire week dedicated to raising awareness about suicide. Maybe if we shed ourselves of our own tangles & shame surrounding our stories, it would empower & embolden us to speak up, reach out, not be so afraid to be vulnerable…..maybe, just maybe, suicide won’t be an option for people.

Think about the story of your life so far. Have you accepted it? Have you only owned certain parts of it? Are there parts of it that you still need to heal from? How much of it have you TOLD? Who do you know that could benefit from a few pages or even a few chapters of your life story?

I challenge you, I’m even challenging myself moving forward to have the courage, have the boldness, to accept your story. Own your story. And then in some form or fashion, whatever is in your capacity to do so, TELL YOUR STORY. You never know who’s life you could save by doing so.

You can read more about National Suicide Prevention Week over on my friend Cristi Comes’ blog http://www.ellieadorn.com/ -there are hundreds of sites, but I find hers to have a wealth of knowledge & information from stories to resources in this area. You can also visit this site as well for even more information & links to resources: http://www.suicidology.org

To share your story in a safe place and or read those of others, Join The Band at http://www.bandbacktogether.com/. They are also on Facebook.