Talking About PPD (and All Its Friends)

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, so it seems appropriate to share this with you today: Yesterday I did an interview for a news outlet about why it’s important to talk about postpartum depression in the context of maternal suicide. You can see that interview and the rest of their reporting on the Global News website.

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The interview was prompted by a Canadian Medical Association Journal article about why it’s time to put maternal suicide under the microscope, which, in turn, was prompted by the case of Winnipeg mother Lisa Gibson who, it appears, killed her two small children and then herself and was said to have been suffering from postpartum depression. There are a few things I want to say about this issue and my interview with Global News.

I’ll start with this: Women like Lisa Gibson who kill their children are not monsters. That’s a bold statement, but I really believe that to be true. In fact, let’s make it a bolder statement:

Women suffering from postpartum mood disorders who kill their children are not monsters. 


Some of you are already in fits of rage, but hear me out. I don’t want to change your mind about this, because it’s such an emotional topic and I totally get that, but I do want to be able to have a conversation about it. I’ll share my thoughts and I welcome yours in the comments.

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First, women who do this are not suffering from your typical depression. Generally they are suffering from postpartum psychosis, which is as scary as it sounds. Some very brave women have shared their stories of postpartum psychosis and the completely unreal, not-based-in-real-life things they believed. Women like Jenni, who shared that she saw:

“…a figure, a dwarfish figure – a dark, person-shaped creature that scurried toward the bassinet, saw me, and darted away.”

Jenni thought it was this figure—instead of colic—that was responsible for her newborn’s crying.

And then there’s Heather, whose story I’ve shared before. Heather described finding herself naked on the side of a DC highway:

“When helicopters flew overhead, I was convinced the world was going to end and that presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain were headed to DC to join forces and save the world. I thought of a few ways I could help save the world: My husband and I could kill each other. Or we could kill our children. Or my parents…”

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So: Women like Heather do not have murderous motives. Often they truly believe killing their children is necessary for reasons that don’t make any sense in the real world. For others it’s less like a plot from a dramatic Hollywood blockbuster and more that they believe their children would be better without them as a mother. Don’t try to make sense of it. It’s psychosis. And until we make it okay to say, “I’m not okay,” and to make it better, easier, not-terrifying for mothers to ask for help, this is going to keep happening.

We need to make it okay to ask for help.


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And that’s why I did the interview. The news clip, of course, includes mere seconds of what was a much longer conversation and if you’re familiar with my story then you haven’t missed much. But the clip also focused on medication – partly because it’s a visual associated with the topic and partly, I suspect, because it’s sort of shocking. (Serious? Clearly associated with mental illness, in any case.) And while medication is one of the things I credit with helping me finally recover, it’s not the only option and it’s not what works for everyone.

The point I wanted to make, essentially, was this: Ask for help. You’re not alone. Postpartum depression is shockingly common and you’re not the only one and it doesn’t make you a bad mother. There are options, and whether you’re hiding in the bathroom crying or formulating a plan to take your own life, you can get help. There is another way.

Please, ask for help.

It’s going to be okay.

 
SUICIDE AND CRISIS RESOURCES

If you (or someone you know) is thinking about hurting yourself or your children, get help. 

Canada: Crisis centres in Canada: http://www.suicideprevention.ca/in-crisis-now/find-a-crisis-centre-now/

US - National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Internationalhttp://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

And remember, you don’t have to be suicidal to call a hotline. If you need to talk to someone, call. You can also go to the nearest emergency room to ask for help.

Just Say the Word

Everyone needs help once in a while.

My kids have been sick and my husband’s away and a couple of meals would really help. 

But asking for help is hard.

Some days are really long and I could use a play date so my kids and I aren’t in each others’ faces all the time.

I’m lucky to be part of a group of women where this isn’t a problem.

My dad needs help and I can’t get there for a few days. Can someone help him?

Need help? Ask for help. Several will respond.

I just had surgery and I need someone to drive my oldest to school tomorrow.

Notice someone struggling? Nominate her for help. Spread the love.

Some baking would be lovely. 

It doesn’t have to be big things. Sometimes the little things are what we need most.

Ask for help. Offer help.

We all need help sometimes.


We can't help everyone, but everyone can help someone. - Ronald Reagan

 

I feel incredibly lucky to have found a group of friends here from whom I can ask for help when needed and offer help when asked. It really is a blessing and I wish that for everyone.

Grey Skies and Runaway Trains

It rained yesterday.

We don’t get a lot of rain here. We get snow, which is mostly accompanied by brilliant sunshine, but grey skies are rare. It’s one of the reasons I love living here.

Last week spring made a valiant effort to overtake winter. The sun shone, the temperature rose, and the mounds of snow by the sides of the roads melted. I was living in the sunshine and loving it. But over the last few days the skies have turned grey.

train wreck circa 1900

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Life is not always sunny, of course. But for me it has been sunny more often than not, and I’ve been able to pause in those catch-your-breath moments and really soak it in. But my ability to see the sun can disappear as quickly as the sun itself.

I don’t function when I don’t get enough sleep, and I’m not getting enough sleep. And I’m losing hope that I will suddenly, miraculously start getting enough. After a long week followed by a couple of rough nights, the rain entered my life yesterday – both literally and metaphorically.

I’ve been here before and I know exactly where this sleep deprivation road leads. And I have no desire to take that path again. I don’t want to feel that way and I don’t want to have to say, Actually, it happened again the second time too. 

I want, with every fibre of my being, to be able to push the emergency button and make this runaway train stop. But I’m feeling the desperation an engineer must feel when he knows the train is going to hit something in the tracks. It’s there, it’s in front of me, and the momentum feels like too much right now. It’s bigger than me and I’m not in control of the outcome.

I was hoping today would be better, but instead I woke up to snow. It’s time to hit the brakes.

Wish me luck.

2:40 a.m.

“Goodnight,” I say, kissing him. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Then a whispered plea. Please sleep.

The chances of him sleeping from this 2:40 a.m. tuck-in until morning are next to none. The chances of him sleeping until 5 a.m. are…okay. I give it even odds. But he’s not likely to get to even 6 a.m. before waking up.

Which means I’m going to be waking up. Again.

I haven’t had more than four hours of sleep in a row since the beginning of October. And that’s rare. Really rare. Sometimes I get three in a row (more often lately – fingers crossed) but too often it’s two hours between wake-ups, or two and a half if I’m lucky.

As we enter this sixth month with Ethan, I now know with much greater certainty that sleep deprivation was a huge contributor to my PPD with Connor. I look back and wish we had done something different, but I honestly don’t know what that would have been. We tried everything.

We tried a night of bottles so I could sleep when Connor was three months old, after which he refused to take a bottle for months as if punishing me for wanting to sleep. It was after that option was taken away—that one thing that would let me sleep sometimes instead of having to feed him—that I started to feel like I was going to die. From exhaustion. From desperation. From despair.

I don’t have that issue this time, thank goodness. I started to feel those same feelings of being desperate for sleep, thinking about it all the time, wondering how long it will last this time, and I asked for help. I can’t do it again, and luckily I have a husband who’s at home and can get up with the kids in the mornings so I can sleep just a little bit more.

So I’m not desperate. I’m not in despair.sleep-quote

I am feeling it, though. I stood in front of a shelf in the grocery store last week for at least 10 minutes before I was able to choose an item and put it in my cart. My brain just wasn’t processing.

I’m clumsy. I walk into things a lot and am always sporting a bruise or three. My synapses just aren’t connecting.

I stood in front of the toaster the other day waiting for it to pop and then realized I hadn’t put any bread in. The next day I managed to make toast for myself, but then without thinking I cut it into four squares the way Connor likes it. My neurons are firing, but perhaps not quite in the right order. (But that’s okay; toast in little squares is actually pretty good.)

I spend a lot of time looking at Ethan these days. I’m soaking him in. Breathing in his smell and imprinting the rolls of his thighs on my fingers. I want to remember what his baby laugh sounds like and appreciate the gift of watching a person learn to navigate the world. He will be our last baby and there are many things about that fact that leave me a bit teary.

But the lack of sleep isn’t one of them. When my brain rebels against wakefulness and my eyelids refuse to stay open I remember: It’s the last time. I won’t have to do this again.

I want it to be over, this quest for sleep over which I have no real control.

But at least I know this: It’s the last time.

 

No Joy

I kept waiting for my first trimester to be over so I’d stop feeling sick and start experiencing the euphoric energy I’d felt the first time.

That energy never came; I only became more and more fatigued as the pregnancy progressed. I started to develop insomnia so bad that I’d only sleep two or three hours a night. The lack of sleep started to get to me; my moods fluctuated wildly, and I had to quit my part-time editing job due to complete apathy towards the work.

These are not my words, and yet this is my story. I just didn’t know it until I read it.

You may have gathered from yesterday’s post that things are slightly less than peachy here. I’ve been struggling for a while, but I thought it was just the natural progression of having moved away from family and friends and settling (or not) into whatever’s next. It was a new job and a longer commute and wondering where certain things are after our move. It was a pregnancy and a reduction in my med dose and a subsequent bump back up when that didn’t work. It was a small boy who’s almost four and all the challenges that come with that.

Except that’s not all it is.

The excerpt above is from a post called Robbed of the Joy of Pregnancy by Alexis Lesa on Postpartum Progress. Something lurking at the back of my brain took me to the antenatal depression tag on that site over the weekend, where I read one post and then another. And then I came to that one.

I know this is an issue for me. I just didn’t know it. It was an issue during my pregnancy with Connor too. I even did a Google search for antenatal depression, thought “huh” and then moved on. And was surprised when I got postpartum depression. (It’s okay – you can roll your eyes.)

The only thing in the above quote that I’m not experiencing is insomnia. I’m having the usual pregnancy-related trouble sleeping, but for the last few weeks I could happily have slept all the time. And, to be frank, some days I did. Wanting to stay in bed all the time is usually a huge light bulb for me, but I put a blanket over that light bulb and went back to sleep.

The thing is, though, that once I read that post the light burned bright again. I confessed to the problem to my #PPDChat group and a very dear (real life) friend of mine started looking up resources for me in this new city. She found a counsellor and a women’s mental health clinic and that was really all I needed to get me back on the right path.

Could I have searched those things out myself?

Yes.

No.

Yes, I’m on a first-name basis with Google. No, when the ground is coming up at me I don’t have the resources to find resources.

But I do have people who will do that for me, as long as I can muster up the courage to ask.

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Image credit: GregRob on Flickr