Mental Illness Awareness Week #IamStigmafree
live under a rock don’t use social media at all, I tend not to be up to date on the latest and greatest happenings in the world. I have no idea what the cool kids are watching on TV these days (Friends isn’t still on the air, right?) and I’m only vaguely aware of what’s going on in sports, pop culture and music (beyond mantra and show tunes).
Thankfully, I do read a blog or two, and while browsing Belleruth Naperstek’s latest posts at Health Journeys earlier today, I learned that this week is Mental Illness Awareness Week, as promoted by The National Alliance on Mental Illness.
From the NAMI website:
Each year Mental Illness Awareness Week occurs during the first full week of October. This year it takes place between October 4–10. This year, the theme revolves around building a movement through the new StigmaFree initiative.
Being Stigma Free means learning about and educating others on mental illness, focusing on connecting with people to see each other as individuals and not a diagnosis, and most importantly, taking action on mental health issues and taking the StigmaFree pledge. The hashtag for the theme is #IAmStigmaFree. – See more at: https://www.nami.org/miaw#sthash.caz4f7Ll.dpuf
I cannot tell you how happy I am that I found this information out before it was too late. I’ve taken the pledge and I hope you will, too!
It’s probably obvious that I have an interest in mental heath issues – and the stigma surrounding them – because I’m in the business of emotion and stress management. Often times that means working with clients who have been diagnosed with a mental illness.
But, what you might not know, is that I’m also someone who has personal experience with mental illness. After the birth of my daughter, I suffered from severe postpartum depression and anxiety, and I now live with CPTSD. From the point of view of both practitioner and patient I know first hand the stigma, shame, blame and confusion that come along with a mental illness diagnosis.
As a society we’ve come such a long way in extending compassion, awareness and understanding to people from all different walks of life, with all different kinds of afflictions and challenges. But, for some reason, mental illness is still something people speak of in hushed tones and are hard pressed to admit to themselves, or others, that they have. I think the primary fear is being labeled as “crazy” or not being taken seriously or trusted (I know that’s been my fear). We’ve got a long way to go in changing this viewpoint, but thanks to the work of organizations like NAMI, we’re well on our way.
As part of the pledge to be #StigmaFree, I’ve agreed to share my experience with mental illness. Below is my story of recovering from postpartum depression and anxiety using Bach flower essences.
This post originally appeared on the blog on February 21, 2014.
I remember my first month of motherhood fairly well. There was lots of nursing, cuddling, diaper changing and oohing and ahhing. Certainly being a new mama was anything but easy, but my husband and I were managing. It struck me as somewhat odd that I had suddenly developed a fear of nighttime that would render me panic stricken for a few moments each day after sunset. But I waved that off as just an odd thing and left it at that.
Then a case of mastitis turned into an abscess that required emergency surgery to drain. Waking up in the recovery room after the operation I felt vastly different then I did when I went in. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but I knew something was off.
I was not the same.
Upon returning home everything changed. Suddenly I found myself in a state of constant panic and vigilance. I was convinced I was dying. I was convinced my baby was going to die. I was sure that something horrible was happening almost every minute of the day.
Things that I’d previously never given a second thought to, were now cause for countless hours spent searching mothering.com and more time spent crying alone in a closet that I’d like to admit.
Was she gaining enough weight?
Was she hitting all her milestones?
Was she sleeping enough?
On and on it went.
At 4 months old my daughter started grunting a lot and passing blood in her stool. It took no time for worry to escalate to hysteria and before I knew it I was convinced she had some rare intestinal disease that would kill her.
After a trip to the pediatrician provided no satisfactory answers, I started my own intrepid quest to find some. I ran with the idea that she might have a food intolerance and went on every elimination diet the internet could offer, meticulously noting each morsel I ate and how my daughter reacted in the hours and days that followed.
This quickly lead to me frantically taking pictures of poop and cataloging them in an Excel spreadsheet that also included the foods I’d eaten. Match a bad poop up with the food I’d ingested beforehand and I’d find the culprit!
Yep. Let that sink in for a moment.
This went on for months.
At the time I didn’t really think there was anything strange about my behavior. I was capable, functioning, and not exhibiting classic “I want to harm myself or my baby” PPD symptoms, so it didn’t dawn on me that what I was doing was out of the ordinary. Just normal Type A mama worries, right?
Looking back I don’t know how I missed it.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I didn’t miss it. I denied it.
When I allowed myself to consider the fact that perhaps the manic updating of Excel poop charts was not run of the mill new mother behavior, and that maybe it was something deeper, like PPD, a voice in my head would immediately pipe up saying things like, “PPD means you’re crazy”, and “people will think you’re a bad mother”.
These thoughts terrified me, so I buried the idea and pressed on.
Finally, one day, as I was once again dealing with poop photography, my loving husband, extremely worried by now, said a few words that changed everything.
“She’s only going to be this age today. Tomorrow she will be one day older. Do you really want to spend these days staring at pictures of poop?”
In that moment something clicked inside of me. I realized it was time to own up to what was happening and get help. My behavior was not healthy and something had to change.
In the months that followed I saw a variety of practitioners and tried a bevy of treatments to assist me in regaining some balance. Some worked for a little while, most didn’t work at all. By the time my daughter’s first birthday rolled around I was awash in anxiety, depression and despair.
Then one day my husband happened upon Bach flower essences at Whole Foods. I don’t remember which flowers he brought me, but what I do remember is the miraculous seeming shift that I felt almost instantly.
Suddenly, for the first time in over a year, I saw a light – albeit small – peeking out from the end of a long dark tunnel. Something deep inside of me knew that I had found a way out.
I’d be lying if I said that once I started taking flowers life instantly became sunshine and roses. It took almost a year to feel a true, consistent shift from dark to light. But in that time I felt measurable progress almost daily. Little by little the dark days became shorter and the light days stuck around longer. There were still ups and down to be sure, but over time I began to feel more capable, more calm and more present.
Today I still battle days of depression and anxiety that mostly stem from PTSD I was recently diagnosed with, that exists as a result of traumas from earlier in my life. But thanks to Bach flowers, nourishing foods, yoga, meditation, prayer and an amazing support system (which includes a phenomenal therapist), more times than not I am able to make it though the day in one piece and go to sleep with love and gratitude in my heart.
A far cry from where I was five years ago.
So mamas, please take heart and hear my words – if you’re struggling with depression, anxiety or are just feeling challenged by motherhood – please know that you are not alone. You are not crazy. You are not incompetent. You are not ruining your child/ren. You did nothing wrong. You are human. And you are beautiful.
There is a way out of the darkness. I’m living proof. If flowers don’t resonate for you, there are so many other resources in both the traditional and alternative medicine worlds.
Please reach out.
There is help and there is hope.
So, you’re probably wondering which flowers did the trick, right?
It’s important to note that the right combination of flowers will vary from person to person, but I use the ones below often in my practice and achieve positive outcomes similar to mine. These are the core group of flowers I used, in varying combinations, (usually no more than 3 or 4 at a time) to help relieve acute symptoms of PPD, as well as help to heal more deeply rooted issues.
Mustard for when the depressive gloom would overcome me for no reason.
Aspen for when I was anxious for no reason.
Rock Rose for when I was feeling generally terrified.
Red Chestnut for when I was terrified that something horrible would happen to my husband or daughter.
Sweet Chestnut for times I felt utter despair at having to deal with having PPD at all.
Gorse for when I felt truly hopeless.
Olive for the mental, physical and emotional exhaustion I was experiencing.
Scleranthus to help keep my moods from swinging so wildly.
Star of Bethlehem to help heal trauma from my younger years and from the mastitis experience that, together, I believe trigged my PPD in the first place.