Heather's Story

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Trigger warning: This post deals with the topic of suicide. 

They Need Me.

Last night, I threatened suicide to my husband. It wasn’t the first time I made the threat. I’ve never meant it. I’ve never actually wanted to kill myself. Complete the act. I’ve wanted to die. To escape. To run away. To get sick. To time travel and be given the opportunity to start over. To erase the past. But I have never actually wanted to kill myself. And I have never made any attempt. But I have said it many, many times.

I started making those threats in college. Over the phone to my mom when I was having an episode. Or when I was really angry at something she had done. Or not done. Or said, or made me feel. Or because of a childhood memory that randomly came up and flooded my soul. Maybe I threatened once or twice to my brother who, in his own haze of depression and anxiety, probably responded with some futile words and understood that my state would pass.

And today, I still threaten. To my husband. To my 10-year old daughter. I think I wanted to test my husband last night. I was angry at the world. I was mostly angry at myself, for not being a good mama to my girls. For causing them the same kind of pain I felt as a child. For being inadequate. For not being able to take back my mistakes. The list goes on. These feelings cause more trauma on top of what is already there, simmering, bubbling, waiting to be awakened. Wanting to tell its story. These are not just mama-having-a-bad-day thoughts. These are the pain. I live in this pain. And when it gets too much to bear, or when I have not been properly medicated, I want to vanish.

So last night, I skipped out on family movie night. I didn’t feel deserving of sitting and snuggling with my daughter on the couch because nothing else felt right. While my wise mind wanted to sink in and hibernate with my sweet girl for two hours while the little one slept soundly upstairs, I couldn’t. My pain paralyzed my ability to take pause. To breathe. To just be with myself and my child. For two fucking hours. That’s all she needed from me. I didn’t have to talk. I didn’t have to share. I didn’t have to be anything at all. I literally just needed to sit on my ass and stare at the screen. And I couldn’t.

So I said goodbye. And I told her I love her soooooo much, as she says to me. And she cried. And she begged me to come home that night and not go away. And then as expected she said back, “I love you soooo much, mama.” To which I responded, “Well you shouldn’t.” I told my 10-year old crying daughter that she shouldn’t love her mama. Because in that moment, and even now hiding behind a keyboard, I knew that I had caused her, and would continue to cause her, so much pain. The kind of pain I feel. The unbearable pain that I know and have wanted so desperately to prevent her from understanding. In that moment, I thought that by telling her not to love me, I was letting her off the hook. I was telling her it was ok to hate her mama who wants to be so many things for her and just doesn’t know how. I was telling her that she deserved more than I have given her. And I drove off.

About an hour later, I was sitting in the parking lot at Target. I was texting my husband horrific phrases about how he needed to make sure that my girls know I love them. He must always tell them how much I love them. I was threatening something, although the words weren’t clear. This was my test. I wanted him to come to me. To sweep me up in his arms and let me cry and allow me to try to push him away. I wanted him to hold me through all of this. He told me he loved me over text and to please come home. I kept saying “You don’t need me there,” and he responded with “All we want is to have you home. Please come home.” But still I pushed. I tested some more. Until finally I wrote “What’s going to happen the one time I actually do something to myself? Are you just going to keep telling me you love me and you want me to come home? What if I don’t actually come home?”

A few minutes later, a cop showed up at my car window. And then another one showed up. And another. Fucking fabulous. Male police officers arrive to help the crazy lady. The thought of how little they know about this human condition enrages me. One of them actually said, “You can’t drive home if you took your antidepressant. Is it ok for you to drive on that kind of medication?” The ignorance about depression and anxiety, about what it truly is, reared its ugliness.

These guys didn’t know a thing, and it was so patronizing listening to their attempts at getting through. I told them what they wanted to hear: I was having a bad day. Yes, officer, I have a therapist. I told them that, if they walked through the parking lot into Target, they would find other local mamas wandering the aisles trying to escape their lives, too. But they persisted. They told me not to feel ashamed; they were just there to help me. No one fucking understands. Not a man, or another woman for that matter, can understand the pain a depressed mother feels when she is at her lowest, unless she, too, has been there.

I certainly did not need them to stand there and poke at me. We, the anxious, the sad, the ashamed, the guilty, the angry, the lonely, the numb, the overwhelmed, DO NOT NEED YOUR PITY. OR YOUR EXPLANATIONS. OR YOUR SUGGESTIONS. We need you to be there. To hold us. To help us learn to feel safe in a very scary world. To stop saying “I’m sorry you feel this way,” and just say “I know. It hurts.” To come when we threaten. Because maybe you will be the only one who has ever come. And maybe that will mean something. Maybe, for a split second, it will abandon a piece of the pain. And maybe that will help.

When the cops finally let me leave, they followed me to my home, where they harrassed me in my driveway and then chatted on my block, underneath my innocent toddler’s bedroom window, for another hour or so.

I eventually went inside and asked my husband what he was waiting for. Why was he showing my girls that it’s ok to stay in a relationship like this. An emotionally abusive relationship is how I define it. And he shrugged, exhausted, drained, knowing that any answer he gave at that moment wouldn’t be enough. The only answer I can come up with myself is that he sees me. He actually sees me. He knows me. He knows that my depression and anxiety are not me. They are my demons. He knows that when I’m good, I’m so good, and that I am the best God Damn Mama my girls could ever have. Whenever I ask him why he hasn’t taken them and left me yet, his response is always the same: “Because they need you. They need you healthy. They need you in their lives. They love you. I love you. I need you. And they need you.”

I slept on the couch last night. I didn’t want to sleep next to him in my own bed. Maybe it was a way of punishing myself. Or maybe it was to piss him off. I don’t know. But I woke up this morning. And I will wake up tomorrow morning. And somehow, I will keep on fucking fighting.

Because I have to. My girls need me. They need me to stop blaming myself. They need me to stop thinking such negative thoughts about myself. They need me to prove that I am better than my illness and stronger than my pain. They need me to show them that I am a capable woman who can face it all and learn to cope. They need to see me fall off track and find my way back again. I will wake up tomorrow because I love them so very much and they unconditionally love me back. I will wake up tomorrow because they need me.

If you are struggling with thought of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Hannah's Story

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Written by Hannah Hardy-Jones Five years ago, after the birth of my first child, I thought my kite was damaged beyond repair because of a crippling and rare mental illness. Today my kite is soaring and I would like to share with you the journey I took to rebuild that broken kite.

Hello. I’m Hannah. I’m many things--a mum, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an HR professional. I have recently become the owner of a tech start-up. I have a degree in psychology. I’m a friend to so many beautiful people. I also have Bipolar Disorder.

Bipolar doesn’t define who I am but it is a huge part of me, which is why I tell new friends about my illness very soon in our relationship. Sometimes even on the “first date.” It has become a bit of a running joke with my husband--when I come back from a drink or coffee with a new acquaintance he says, “So, did you tell them about your bipolar?" Invariably I say, “Yes!”

To be honest, I haven’t always been so open about it because for a long time, I felt so much shame.

If you had told me six years ago that I would end up having bipolar, I wouldn’t have believed you. One of the reasons I would have had that reaction was because I saw myself as “normal”--whatever that means. I had a successful career, a loving marriage, and stable friendships. I wasn’t on the fringes of society. I didn’t take drugs. I wasn’t a creative person and I wasn't particularly “moody.” I was the opposite of all the stereotypes that exist for people suffering with bipolar.

After the birth of my daughter, my first baby, I became unwell. Very unwell. I became severely manic, followed by cycles of crippling depression, and was eventually diagnosed with Postpartum Bipolar disorder triggered by childbirth. I had no idea that this form of bipolar even existed let alone what the warning signs were. None of us did. What was meant to be the most exciting and special time of our lives became an absolute nightmare. This illness came storming into our lives like a hurricane, ravaged us, and left us to pick up the pieces.

There are many reasons I wanted to share my story. The biggest reason is that mental health still has such a terrible stigma. There are so many people hiding the fact that they are suffering for the fear of being judged. Unable to tell friends or their employer and who feel so isolated and worthless. It absolutely breaks my heart.

Which is why I'm pouring my heart out to you, to help you understand what this illness is and how it affects people. I want to normalize it by speaking openly and honestly, to share some sad stories but also to share some amusing ones--to make the subject of maternal mental health seem less “scary.”

Mental illness, especially illnesses such as bipolar, schizophrenia and personality disorders scare people. We are scared of the things we don’t understand. We make judgements based on very little knowledge of the facts. Before I had bipolar, I based my opinion of it on movies, TV shows and text books.

When I became ill, I frantically searched online for other women who had experienced my same form of bipolar. I found a few snippets and articles, but what I desperately needed was to see a story about someone who had come out the other side--a success story--a mom who was living a stable and happy life. But all I could find were the horror stories--the broken marriages and hospitalizations.

For a long time I felt that my life was ruined and that I was going to struggle for the rest of my life to keep my bipolar under control. It was truly frightening. My hope is that my story will provide comfort and hope to mums who have been diagnosed with this illness postpartum or who are struggling with any form of postpartum mental illness. I hope to reach any individual with a mental illness who feels alone, hopeless or judged. And I hope we continue to open up the conversation about the way we view mental illness as a society.

My dream is that one day people might feel as comfortable talking about their mental health as they do about any physical ailment. We wouldn’t dream of judging someone because they suffer from arthritis or diabetes. We don’t look away if someone is in pain with a broken leg. Mental illness should be no different.

We have to keep talking about mental health. We have to become better at helping those who are suffering. We have to make it “normal” and not awkward. We have to become more educated so we can help. We can't bury our heads in the sand or look away anymore.

For more from Hannah, visit The KITE Program.

Kristina's Story

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Written by Kristina Delaney My Experience with Postpartum Psychosis

It was Friday of Memorial Day weekend and I was to spend the weekend with my two children, parents, and sister at the beach without my husband because he had to work. Divinely, I was glued to my chair on the front porch of our town home. Oddly, I had all sorts of thoughts racing through my head that kept me from getting behind the wheel and driving myself and my kids to the beach. My husband didn’t understand, and I don’t think I quite did either.

While sitting on the porch, I made a phone call to my best friend. I recall that I made sense when I spoke with her, but since my thoughts and ideas were grandiose in nature, it concerned her. Then I called my boss and apparently quit my job; I do not have much recollection of that conversation. My husband told me later that I sat down and quoted scripture that he didn’t think I had ever memorized.

He stepped outside for a moment. In that moment, I thought Jesus was returning. I grabbed our kids and begged, “Please save us, our family, and our friends!” I kept repeating those words over and over. Suddenly my husband came back inside and found me looking pale and weak, holding our children. I passed out.

He appropriately called 911. Medical personnel responded quickly. As I became conscious, my nursing knowledge jumped in, I promptly and inappropriately told them to pump on my chest and intubate me. I thought I was on the verge of death. Here I was mentally sick. My husband was very frightened and didn’t know what was wrong with me.

They took me to the ER where I stayed for two nights. Then I was transferred to the psychiatric unit. How does a 30-year old mom of two with no previous history of mental illness get admitted to the psych ward? This is where my memory fails me, but the diagnosis: Postpartum Psychosis.

My Psychiatric Unit Stay

On the psychiatric unit, I had a sitter with me 24/7 to be sure I didn’t harm myself or anyone else. I stayed on the unit for nearly two weeks—two weeks without my babies, two weeks I did not get exercise or go outside. I ate in my room with the sitter not far from me as well as took a shower with the sitter right outside my door.

There are some things I remember but other memories my family told me. My sister informed me at one moment I thought I was Tina Turner, and at another time I thought I was pregnant with Baby Jesus. I do recall thinking I was on the set of Grey’s Anatomy with Bradley Cooper and Mandisa.

It shouldn’t have been a bad place then, right? Oh so wrong; it was a very, very scary place! My anxiety and paranoia were both at an all-time high during my hospitalization. I blamed my husband and family for things that were definitely not true. Believe me, when I am well—and my brain isn’t playing tricks on me—I trust my husband 100% without a doubt or question.

I remember drawing family trees over and over. I thought the hospital was hell and my ultimate goal was to get out of there.

My memory began to return during the last couple of days while in the psychiatric unit. Many people ask me if a switch just turned on one day. The answer is NO. My memory just got better every day. Especially when I was at home. I think it was my safe place and I had a sense of normalcy, or a new normal. I really just think my brain didn’t want to remember the awful thoughts I had while I was in the hospital.

While in the hospital, I was treated with antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, and an occasional injection when my mood and paranoia levels began to increase. I do recall trying to escape and being held down by the staff and probably given an injection to calm me down. Again, I just wanted out of there. It was hell on Earth to me.

To this day, I can hardly wrap my brain around how my mind played such dirty tricks on me. But, postpartum psychosis is no joke.

After spending nearly two weeks in the hospital, I was discharged home. For two whole weeks, I didn’t see my babies (5½ month old and 2½ year old). I was so excited to get home and see them, but my journey with postpartum psychosis was far from over.

Returning Home

When I returned home, things weren’t back to “normal.” I couldn’t be with my children alone. I couldn’t be by myself. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t return to work. Talk about restrictions! I couldn’t be with my own children by myself? No. Doctor’s orders!

I really didn’t fully understand the reasoning behind all of the restrictions. I didn’t even realize I had just been in the hospital for two weeks; I literally didn’t remember. So much of my brain just wasn’t working right and my thought processes were messed up. And, from not being able to go outside during my hospitalization and exercise, I was very weak.

I knew I had to trust my family and friends, but there was so much I just didn’t understand. I really didn’t understand what was happening and why. I felt like I was being tortured in every possible way and ultimately being kept from my children and away from society. I was still paranoid and felt like people were following me and my family. There was even a day I thought I couldn’t take it anymore and tried to jump out of my husband’s truck. But, the good news is I got through that day and I’m here to FINISH this story!

Continued Treatment

As part of my rehabilitation, I attended an intensive outpatient program for a few weeks, which involved three hours of daily group therapy. Since I was still out of touch with reality, it was like being in group therapy with my entire family. Each person in the room reminded me of someone, either a friend or family member, and that is who I thought it was. I did not like it.

After graduating from the intensive outpatient program, I was then referred to a psychologist and a psychiatrist. I continue to see both doctors to this day. Regular appointments with my psychiatrist assisted to keep my medications managed. At one point my husband thought I was back tracking and it was suggested that he literally hand my medications to me and watch me swallow them. Here I am, a nurse, fully capable of managing medications but my husband stood over me twice a day making sure I swallow my medications! I felt like a child. Eventually, I was able to take my medications without my husband standing over me.

Gradually, restrictions were lifted. First, I was able to drive but not with the kids in the car. That felt so good just to be able to get out by myself without a babysitter. I probably just went to Target and got a chai tea latte at Starbucks. Talk about freedom!

Eventually I was able to take care of my two children as well as drive with them in the car. My psychiatrist was impressed with how quickly I recovered and took back my mothering responsibilities. But at the same time, I was pretty anxious and scared.

Since my psychosis episode, my anxieties had increased and having both girls by myself was quite a job for one person. I applaud stay at home moms-it’s a full time job in itself. My children went to daycare three days a week and stayed with me two days a week once all restrictions were lifted, which was gradual. I continued (and still do) have anxieties when I keep both of my children by myself. There was even a weekend I had to call on my parents when my husband had to work because I just couldn’t do it by myself—and that’s okay. Moms, it’s okay to ask for help because we can’t do it all by ourselves and we can only do so much.

How I Got Through

Many of you are probably wondering how I got through such an experience. My faith is very important to me as well as my family, and I had a lot of people praying for all of us. I’m so thankful for each and every prayer as it was definitely heard. God’s grace covered my family and has and continues to carry me through this journey. The support of my family and friends truly helped me through each and everyday, especially my husband, and especially those days that I felt like I couldn’t make it through.

My physicians, medications and psychotherapy continue to aid in my recovery. My recovery is still going very well and I’m doing as well as to be expected. One day my psychiatrist told me it was like I was a soldier who had just returned home from battle, so yes I consider myself a fighter and a warrior over postpartum psychosis. I am a survivor.

You Are Not Alone

I consider myself extremely blessed as I never had ill thoughts towards my children during this whole episode. I have a new found God-given passion to tell my story with other women in hopes to shed light on Perinatal Mood Disorders such as Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum OCD, and Postpartum Psychosis. My mission is to let women everywhere know that they are not alone.

For too long I went around thinking others would think I would be a less together mom if I was on meds, but that’s not true. My husband and I on numerous occasions discussed that I may need to talk about getting on an antidepressant with my physician, but I failed to do so. I’m not exactly sure why, but I just felt like I could fight through it myself. Looking back, if it would have prevented my psychotic episode, I definitely would have asked! Now I’m on meds, and I’ll tell the whole world! It’s for my mental health and well-being!

Postpartum Depression is diagnosed in 1 in 7 women. Postpartum Psychosis is seen in 1 in 1000, so it is more rare than PPD. In fact, my doctor said he hadn’t seen it in over six years! I am now a Warrior Mom Ambassador with Postpartum Progress. Please also visit my Facebook page called Into the light: Thriving after Postpartum Psychosis, PPD/PPA. I also am willing to share my story in person to appropriate group settings if contacted.

If you suspect that you or someone you love has postpartum psychosis, you/she should be accompanied at all times until a professional diagnosis is received and you/she are under the 24/7 care of a healthcare provider.

Mandy's Story

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Written by Mandy Meelz I'm a new mom of a crazy-cute little girl. And the months leading up to her birth were ones filled with a medley of extreme nausea, quite a lot of fights with my husband (we're a whole other story) and Pinteresting my dream nursery (which I still only use for changing diapers and occasionally quietly crying while packing away clothes she's already outgrown). I'm also a fucking mess. I don't mean that in a cute "beautiful disaster" kind of way. I mean, that if you've ever seen a possum on the side of the road that had been run over and some of its pink body parts are protruding outside its weird, thin/fat, hairless (ish) body, but then it somehow magically reanimated itself so that it would be wounded, but also driven, confused, hungry and very pissed off—THAT would be the kind of mess to which I am referring. If I were to lay out the timeline of the past 11 months (only, because let's face it, I could sit here for fucking hours lamenting all the ways that someone screwed me up and/or over) I will just hit the key points in free-association style:

• Threw up every day I was pregnant including the day I went into labor.

• Labored at home, as per my doctor's instructions, waiting for the moment my contractions went to 3-minutes apart (they never did by the way, they went from 5-minutes apart to 1-minute apart and were unceasingly powerful and clustered, so one lasted 3 minutes.) Total fun.

• Quickly decided to toss my loosely-designed birth plan into the nearest garbage can and beg the doctor for an epidural. I used the words "STAT" and "HOLY FUCK THANK YOU." I am not ashamed for getting that dose of heaven in my spine.

• At some point, getting a catheter and having a nurse struggle to do it, because I wasn't feeling the whole "sure stick that tube in my pee hole k thanks," and apparently despite my strongest efforts to override my instinct to fight her, could not for hours. Also total fun.

• I watched my husband sleep while I lay in my labor bed on my cellphone trying to sleep, but couldn't, only disturbed by the sound of an occasional cool whoosh of medicine down my back, which was really quite relaxing—like laying on the shore of some beach that somehow numbed my spine and washed my pain away.

• Around 3 am, they woke me to break my water. It felt really weird. I fell asleep until 6 am.

• WIth 3 sets of 3 strong pushes, I ushered my daughter into the world with little more than a cry. I was on oxygen. I overdid it. I tore. I almost passed out. The doctor told me that I was TOO strong. I'm an overachiever, what can I say?

• They placed her hot, purply-pink body on my chest and all I said was "Whaaaaa?" Fucking Marge Simpson'd that shit.

• I stared at her for hours. • I'd cry then smile and ride every ebb and flow, every rise, crest and crash of that hormone torrent up and down. I still do.

• I brought her home and 9 days later, my beautiful dog, suddenly started staggering (she was only 2.5 at the time.) and was left to deal with her while my husband went to work that day. I was sick with worry. She had a distant look in her eye. She kept crossing her back legs and staggering when she walked and I brought her to the vet alone and dizzy (hi, just gave birth).

• The first emergency vet they sent us to insisted that I x-ray her because they didn't have an MRI. I was high on postpartum hormones and in a sleepless fog and against my better judgement, agreed.

• 4 hours later she was awake, and paraplegic. They had paralyzed her. In retrospect, it was because she was suffering from a mildly herniated disc that ruptured when they knocked her out and x-rayed her. This wouldn't have happened if I had insisted to just get her an MRI instead.

• I swallowed hard and tattooed my fucking forehead with a type of guilt that is hard to explain.

• I rushed her to the next emergency vet, while my mom stayed in the truck through all this with my newborn baby, sleeping soundly in the car seat.

• I didn't care about anything but my dog.

• She needed emergency spinal surgery and it would cost close to $12,000+ and did I want to sign the papers?

• Fuckyesofcoursesheismybaby.

• Lots of credit card debt.

• After the surgery, countless phone calls and texts between my husband and myself, my family and my dog's doctor, we came home and just stared at the Christmas tree.

• I stared at the twinkle lights and watched as they grew, began to glow larger and shimmer and quiver through big, hot tears in my eyes.

• I'd nurse my daughter, stare at the lights or the television mindlessly and feel nothing.

• I had no one else in this life. Just my husband, my daughter, my two cats and my beloved dog.

• I had no friends.

• I cried a lot.

• No one came to visit me.

• No one brought me a hot dinner.

• No one offered to bring me a tea or a latte.

• We celebrated Christmas Eve by visiting our dog at the hospital, who wasn't eating, who was covered in filth, dried blood, and drops of liquid medicine. She couldn't move her legs. She couldn't wag her tail. She stared at me the way I stared at the Christmas lights, and I couldn't make her understand why she was there, what had happened to her, or why she couldn't walk.

• I brought her a hamburger. She barely wagged her tail and I was filled with a sad hope. I thought I saw her move her back foot ever so slightly. I clung to that for the next week.

• We rang in New Year's Eve by bringing our battered, paralyzed, and confused dog home, and watched her sleep in a fog of painkillers and antibiotics on our makeshift hospital room bed (which was just a pen, an orthopedic bed and a bunch of wee wee pads for her inevitable accidents), located directly under the new TV blaring Ryan Seacrest and the fucking stupid Swarovski-studded ball. 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1.

• I dug in. I learned dog physical therapy. I nursed my baby, I remembered to take a few pictures with her. I ate my feelings. I watched my dreams fade away. I watched my free time disappear. I watched my phone stay dark since no one called me or sent me a, "Hey bitch, how ARE youuuu???"

• I bought my own motherfucking lattes.

• Wrapped my knee in wee wee pads, shoved it between my dog's paralyzed legs to prop her up (as per the PT’s instructions) and used all the strength I had to balance her 75 lb body up with one arm and move her feet, one at a time, to help refire her nerves, reactivate her muscle memory, and help her body remember walking. I massaged her back. I fed her extra treats. And I apologized to her every day for what I let happen to her.

• 9 days into my daughter's life, I had failed my other, first, fur-daughter. Or so it felt.

• I got a bill from the original doctor for $50 for transporting her to the MRI hospital. I wrote back, "Come get it from my cold, dead hand motherfucker," licked the envelope, and mailed it back.

• I watched my daughter grow, watched my dog slowly, surely regain much of her motor function.

• I fought a lot with my husband, because I already don't have a job, I make no money, I don't know who the fuck I am, so how am I supposed to contribute? Plus, we just had a baby, plus our dog sucked away literally every single penny we ever had or had coming, and still does.

• I was too busy dealing with the crisis and chaos of my life to separate the depression from the anxiety, from the PPD from the PPA, from the typical dysfunction, dark me from the new, even darker bitch I'd become.

• I made goals, and let them rot.

• I sunk deeper.

• We get my dog regular water treadmill therapy now and I found an acupuncturist that comes to the house and that seems to help. But of course, I don't have enough money to pay for it, so my husband has to pull it out of his ass.

• I live for taco night and get a margarita and then breastfeed my daughter. I don't ever feel guilty for that.

• I haven't lost any of the weight I wanted to.

• I think I actually gained a few pounds (because of said "eating my feelings" as mentioned above.)

• I'm planning my daughter's first birthday and we are having it at an animal farm and I'm excited to watch her light up at all the animals—because she ADORES animals. But, at the same time, I feel immensely guilty that I don't have any friends. The party we paid for accommodates 15 children. I know 1. I've already started off my daughter with no baby friends. I often lay awake at night and pray to whichever god I'm talking to that day that she is cooler than me, that she has friends, that people like her for who she is, that my weird, dark, loud, unlikable personality doesn’t rub off on her. That she gets her father's affability.

• I still buy my own lattes. And I'm so jealous of the friends that are sitting at the tables, talking, sharing pics, snaps, laughing. They have nice clothes. Mine are stained. I have one nursing bra because they are expensive and we have no money. I sprained the top of my left foot and have to wear sneakers all the time. My sweatshirts aren't that baggy but many are designed for nursing so I often don't look very cute anymore.

• It hasn't been a year yet. I keep myself focused on getting past the 1 year anniversary of this time in my life. I feel like I never got to just enjoy being a new mommy. I worry I cheated my daughter, so I painstakingly make sure to chronicle her little life, her victories, her words, her favorite books and sounds. I don't take my dog for enough walks now that she can walk. And I tell myself that this isn't irony, but instead it's my turn to be metaphorically paralyzed and someone needs to teach me how to walk again. To stand up from the couch, to look in my mirror and find myself. The last time I looked in my rearview mirror, I snarled at my reflection, I yelled at my reflection and screamed, "Who the fuck are you? You don't even know!" I punched the mirror (and broke my windshield). I have a picture to prove it, because it's still broken. See? So many kinds of fucked up. How could I possibly know who I am?

• My back still is messed up from CrossFit, then later from sleeping in the living room on the couch so I could be near my dog in case she needed me, next to the baby's bassinet in case she needed me.

• My daughter recently began taking medicine for a hemangioma she has over her right eye. The medicine is fun because it causes sleep disruption, night terrors, and low blood sugar. I haven't been able to pump enough to feed her from a bottle so I have to wake up and nurse her repeatedly. I haven't slept in months. She doesn't nap. And my mom is sick so I have no one to watch her so I can take a nap, or vacuum or even do my hair.

• I stalk the Baby Tula website for a Wrap Conversion carrier. They are expensive and silly for me to want, but I want one. They are never in stock. This is an added frustration, but I want one because my wrap is stretching out and my back keeps going out from an old CrossFit injury. Wearing her is my life. I NEED to wear her when we go out.

• I wear my daughter in a wrap and sometimes, as I tie her little, warm, sturdy, happy body to my own, I become painfully aware that she's the only thing keeping me remotely sane. I strap her to my chest to keep myself from floating away. From being blown away by a stiff, cold, unrelenting wind.

There are parts I've missed. But at the end of the day, we all have our bullshit. We all have our hard story. We can't all afford assistants and nannies and friends. I tell myself that it's just that the first year is hard. I tell myself that things will get better. I hope that just because I say it, it's true.

(UPDATE: We were so overwhelmed by the honesty and pain of Mandy's story that we not only bought her the latte she so desperately wished another mom would buy her but we also bought her the baby carried she dreamed of. Because that's what we do here.)

Daisy's Story

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Written by Daisy Montgomery Ashton was not yet home from the NICU, but I had been discharged from the hospital for about a week. I had always been a vivid dreamer, so I assumed it was simply my brain’s way of coping with the stress of not having our baby home. I did not think they were a big deal, despite images of blood, death, or torture. Yet, as time went on, I noticed a shift in my thought patterns and emotions, and it soon became very clear to me why no one seems to talk about these illnesses.

They are terrifying.

Deep fear began to invade my life, and I found myself terrified of things I have never been afraid of before. I was absolutely certain someone was going to murder me. This became such a concern for me that soon I was afraid of the dark. I wasn’t sure what, but I knew with absolute certainty that something was hiding in the shadows, waiting to grab me if I wasn’t careful. Much like a child, I began leaving almost every light on in the house if I was alone, even running from one room to the other to make sure the monsters wouldn’t get me. Becoming startled by the slightest movement, or perceived movement, became normal for me—even when we spent time at the hospital visiting our son. The nightmares continued, occurring almost every night.

Once Ashton was home, my anxiety and panic seemed to subside for a day or so, only to increase to a level that debilitated me emotionally and mentally. Intrusive and horrifying thoughts plagued my mind daily. Even worse, the irrational fear of me being murdered spread to fears of Barclay and Ashton being killed in some alarming way. I felt on the verge of a panic attack getting into the car because what if we had a terrible accident on the way home? What if Barclay died on the way to school, leaving me scared and alone? Nevermind that I was too scared to drive by myself.

When I held Ashton, I was frightened that knives would stab his eyes out, or someone would drown him just to spite me. Much like the movie Saw, my mind was a dark place filled with torture and hopelessness. Some quick Google research said that the fear and anxiety I was experiencing was normal as a new mom, but as more time passed I had a growing sense that I was not okay. Despite having a great marriage with open communication, I felt such a sense of shame that I could not bring myself to mention these things to Barclay. I didn’t want him to worry about me, and besides, Ashton was home now…I’d be fine. Right?

Meanwhile, the nightmares started to become riddled with homicidal themes and characters that would ridicule me or my postpartum body, telling me I was not good enough until I would kill them from rage. I was exhausted, and forced myself to eat to keep up my milk supply despite having no appetite. I bounced between loving breastfeeding but hating the feeling of a baby attached to me all day.

Friends would text me, asking to meet up or to see Ashton, but I didn’t answer. What if they tried to take him away from me just like the hospital did? I couldn’t bear the thought, yet I was hollow and in need of adult interaction, instead opting for the happy façade that Instagram provided.

Movie dialogue would trigger thoughts of the scarce memories of the birth and I would zone out, ruminating. I would cry in secret. Guilt seemed to find me at every corner, and the shame made the time seem to slow down so much that it wasn’t until Barclay mentioned that I hadn’t left the house in a week, not even to go outside for a walk, that I realized how much time was passing.

At first, I didn’t think anything of it, but later that day when I walked into the bathroom to wash my hands, I realized I could not look at myself in the mirror. I knew I was not well, but felt like I had nothing to complain about since my baby was home and safe. I wasn’t the person I knew myself to be, but afraid of the world and afraid of myself. As I left the bathroom, I saw Barclay holding Ashton and feeding him lovingly. A bolt of anger shot through me because I felt like motherhood was not the experience I was made to believe by advertisements.

I did not feel resentment towards Ashton (nor did I ever have thoughts about harming him), but sadness and loss that I did not get the experience I was “promised.” Motherhood was exhausting and a true sacrifice that I was in no way prepared for, yet everything around me made it seem so easy. I loved my baby beyond life itself, but as I watched the bond Barclay and Ashton had, I was sure that my son would never love me because I was a terrible mom—after all, wasn’t everything that happened my fault?

Then the thought popped into my head that changed everything.

They would be better off without me.

Not dead, per se. Just gone. I knew then I needed help. What was wrong with me? It was then I sat on the couch and started telling Barclay everything. I couldn’t look him in the eye, but a lot of relief came over me because I didn’t feel alone anymore. He couldn’t relate 100%, but he knew how hard the birth and the NICU experience had been on both of us. He did not place any blame or shame on me, but instead hugged me and told me everything was going to be alright.

I called the doctor and got an appointment immediately.

As I sat in the exam room, familiar feelings of dread surfaced. I felt profound anxiety that they would try to take Ashton away, or institutionalize me, or some other scary scenario. I explained everything when the doctor came in, her face soft but concerned. Everything came pouring out like I had been keeping a secret for centuries, tears running down my face. When I was finished, she put her hand on my shoulder, smiled, and softly said, “I can help you. You are not alone or crazy. With help, you will get through this and be okay!” For the first time in what seemed like forever, I felt the rush of hope and understanding. Hidden wounds are often the most damaging.

I began a regiment of medications and therapy: medications to help me sleep and therapy to help me restructure my brain’s way of thinking about what happened. Slowly but surely, after over a month of help, I began to feel more and more like my old self…but still very different. I doubt I will ever be the same, but that’s okay.

Postpartum Depression and PTSD are insidious because you can’t see from the outside if someone is suffering from them. To a stranger on the street and even to some friends and family, I am the same as I ever was: nicely dressed, smiling, and enjoying life, just like any “normal” person. They don’t know I am struggling with fear and anxiety over things that don’t always make sense to me. On good days, sometimes I even feel like I am “all better,” until a sound, smell, or phrase pulls me into those dark corners of my mind. It reminds me that people do not just “get over” traumatic events and I still have a long way to go.

Yet, I have come such a long way in a short time. I can drive by myself to appointments and leave the house without being crippled by fear. I’m starting to see friends more often and answer texts without apprehension. I still have graphic nightmares, but they are becoming less frequent. I’m going to the gym at least three times a week, eating healthy, and I’m completely off the blood pressure medication.

I am still afraid of the dark, and I deal with disturbing intrusive thoughts and anxiety every day, especially at night. I still have fears that something will happen to Ashton or Barclay, and sometimes those fears can ruin my whole day. Still, I am happy with where I am considering the place I was and continue to make progress every day.

My birth experience and the side effects of it has made me reevaluate nearly every facet of my life: my dreams, my friendships, my career, my health, and everything I knew about mental health. My son unknowingly pushes me to be better and to not accept the status quo. My marriage is even stronger, and the appreciation I feel towards Barclay overwhelms me. He has been my strength, and I could not be more grateful.

Life is so fragile, and I don’t want to waste any more time doing things that do not serve my soul or truth. I am more compassionate towards mothers, as I now realize how hard motherhood is, and more compassionate towards those that have PTSD and PPD. There is a belief that those with PTSD are dangerous, but in my experience, we are more scared of you than you are of us, the battle occurring within our minds.

We need to begin creating safe environments where people feel more comfortable sharing their struggles, from soldiers to public servants to children to mothers and fathers. The less shame there is, the more people can receive the help they desperately need.

We need more awareness and discussion of PPD, as well as resources and support for mothers that suffer from it. We need to let mothers know that PPD is not caused by anything they did. We need to talk about trauma, and the importance of birth experiences. Most of all, mothers need to support each other, even if the path of motherhood for one may not match our own.

I was lucky to receive help quickly and have a group of amazing mothers supporting me (you know who you are!)—many do not have that luxury and feel that their situations are hopeless. Reach out and ask your fellow mom if she is doing okay. You never know what difference you are making in her life.

As for me, I’m taking it day by day. I don’t know if I will have another child. I don’t know if I would suffer from PPD again, or have another traumatic birth with another NICU stay. I don’t know if I could love another baby the way I love Ashton and be the mom I would like to be. Who would I be today if all of those things did not happen? But, I’ve learned that these are questions that do not need immediate answers…or maybe they will never need answers at all. Sometimes things happen that challenge who we are and change our course of life forever.

What I do know is this: I am on a path towards great and wonderful things, navigating this difficult but amazing world of motherhood…but much stronger than I was before.

Brooke's Depression Story

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Every few weeks I have a visitor to my bedroom.

It’s a him. I don’t know how a black amorphous body can have a gender but I know this one does.

And when I wake up in the morning and see him at the foot of my bed I know I won’t be able to function for the next 24 hours. Possibly even the next 48. Or 72. It varies.

He’s my cloud of depression. And when he shows up on those random mornings, I sigh and will myself back to sleep because I know what’s coming. Nothing. A day of blank numbness. I’ll cry quietly and softly. I’ll stare out the window for hours for no reason. I’ll think of nothing and everything. I’ll have an expressionless face. I’ll find nothing funny. And there is almost nothing I can do to stop or assuage it.

I live with depression. I take a large handful of variously shaped pills every day to keep it at bay. I pay $300 a week to an amazing psychiatrist who has saved me more than once. I workout often to keep my serotonin levels elevated. I do everything I’m supposed to do. And most of the time I can keep the cloud man at bay. Maybe he lives in the back of my closet with some old shoes I forgot to get rid of. Or maybe he hides under my bed and is totally confused by the jerry-rigged bondage apparatus my husband tried to build for us. But no matter what I do, he pays his visits. I hate him.

I used to practice a horrible ritual of mental self flagellation whenever he popped by. As if I was failing my own treatment because he not only existed but had the audacity to show up. I’m doing everything I can to kill you! Why aren’t you dead yet, you miserable little man?! Why is my brain so damn messed up that pills and therapy and exercise aren’t enough to keep you away from me?! What the f*ck is wrong with me that I can’t hack this!?! Fun stuff.

Eventually I found some inner grace and realized I could let myself off my own hook. My black cloud had enough malignant air in it. I didn’t need to pump more in. It was bursting to capacity as it was.

My little cloud guy hasn’t always been a guest of mine. He sent his emissary in the form of paralyzing anxiety when my first child was born. I’d collapse in tears about sleep patterns and breastfeeding schedules and the simple task of picking a town to walk around in. One particularly rough day found me on the side of the road, weeping, because I couldn’t figure out where to go to take a walk with the stroller. A nice woman pulled over and helped me drive to the nearest town with a sidewalk. I think her name was Rose.

But that first forward scout didn’t take up permanent residence. Apparently he was just visiting, hunting for potential expansion. I guess he liked what he saw because when my second child was born, he called in the big guns. I fell victim to debilitating postpartum depression…the kind where I would hide in closets and cry as my baby screamed…the kind where I would throw up in secret because my body couldn’t contain the excruciating mental pain…the kind where I wanted to simultaneously kill myself and fly away to some exotic land and never come back…the kind where I felt like it wasn’t THAT bad because I never wanted to harm my kids, just myself…the kind where I wasn’t allowed to be alone on the recommendation of doctors.

That’s when I first got help. And medicine. And that’s when I first learned I had depression, the non-postpartum kind. Turns out I had the all-the-time kind. Apparently, my c-section scar wasn’t the only permanent reminder of childbirth; depression was another souvenir. I’d rather have gotten a snow globe.

Having now lived with it for four years, one of my struggles is how to describe my depression to the non-afflicted. Because I’m open about having it, lots of lovely people want to understand it. But it’s nearly impossible to fully describe. Recently I learned the lack of adequate verbiage isn’t unusual; lots of depressed people report having a hard time explaining how depression feels…how it really really FEELS. It seems English doesn’t have the right words. Maybe a combo of adjectives? Maybe, but it’s always going to be missing something.

Which makes depression one mean ass son-of-a-bitch. How amazingly cruel to experience something so inherently isolating and then not be able to find the right way to let people into your pain. Depressive episodes feel lonely enough. Taking away the language to get people to empathize is unreasonably sadistic.

Depression sucks for so many reasons. Honestly, there are just too many to list. But the thing that sucks the most, for me, is it means I’m the mom who’s “sad a lot.” That KILLS me. I do everything I can to hide it from them because I don’t want my children remembering me that way. But kids are wiser than their size should warrant and while their young minds might not fully understand what they see, we all know the scene in that movie when the grown children realize, only in adulthood, that something was really wrong with mommy. I never, ever wanted to play that part or make my children part of that cast.

But some days I have no choice. I nod to the little cloud man as I trudge to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I stare at myself in the mirror all foamy mouthed and give myself the pep talk: you can fall apart when they get to school, you can get through this one, it’s only temporary, call your tribe for help if it’s really bad, you have four hours to cry before pick up, wear something comfortable so you can contort your body however it needs to go today. I don’t believe any of it but I tell myself all those things anyway. And then I walk out of the bathroom and pretend. As best I can. I really, really hate pretending.

Which is why part of my therapy is to share when I’m depressed with my friends and family. I’m not sure if that’s to help me alleviate the symptoms or to ensure I don’t do something rash. Either way, it’s helped enormously to be honest about when my little man shows up. A few simple texts to the powers that be and I know I’ve got backup. It’s nice.

Slowly I’m discovering I need to tell everyone that I live with depression. Somehow saying it—to friends, to strangers, to the ethers—comforts me because if I tell people I have depression, then I can’t drown in it. I tell people that there’s a bomb inside me precisely so it won’t self-detonate. If I say it, it can’t silently kill me because I have called in witnesses to make sure the detonator never goes off. I am building my own bomb squad.

The other benefit is that when I share my really scary things, remarkably, I get more love and empathy than I could ever possibly hold inside myself. Which is lucky because it turns out the only thing that helps the cloud man retreat quickly is love and empathy. Big long hugs. Texts saying, “Oh baby girl, what can I do?” A meal put in front of me because I definitely didn’t feed myself when I fed my kids. Love and empathy. It’s medicine and I can’t get it at CVS. I can only get it from raising my hand and saying, “Please, listen to me, I’m struggling and I need help today.”

So I’ve written this. Selfishly, maybe, because it makes me feel better to have everyone know. But you guys, I cannot do this alone. I will not survive my bedroom visitor if I do this myself. And I know, I KNOW, that there is another mama right now reading this saying holy shit ME TOO. Mama, I see you. I will help you because I see you. And now everyone can see me. A fun, flirty, smart, creative, entrepreneurial, loving mother who’s brain needs help. This is me, Brooke. It’s really nice to meet you.

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Jen's Depression Story

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Until motherhood, I had never been depressed, but looking back at my life, that’s not really true. I had just never been formally diagnosed by a professional. I can remember plenty of days where I felt sad and didn’t want to do anything but curl up in bed. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and had somehow misplaced my joy. I remember having panic attacks when I moved into my first apartment in New York City. Apparently, all that made me a higher risk case for postpartum depression when I decided to become a parent, but I don’t remember reading that in my copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting

I never thought depression, anxiety, medication, therapy, feelings of guilt, failure and the belief I made a mistake becoming a mom would shape the welcome party ushering me into motherhood. I didn’t go in thinking I’d be coming out as a medicated mommy who could barely hold her shit together in those first six months. I couldn’t fathom being the girl who walked circles around my neighborhood in the clothes I slept in, ugly crying on the phone to my own mom, telling her I was in hell, and refusing to believe that I would ever get out.

But that’s what happens when postpartum depression shows up to greet you when you bring your new baby home from the hospital. You feel more than overwhelmed and exhausted. You feel helpless and can’t see any light in the tunnel. Your own light goes out and you think you will be stuck in that darkness forever. And if you’re like me, you have no clue that you’re actually not alone in that darkness. That what is happening to you is extremely common and happens to hundreds of thousands of new moms each year.

So, in that dark tunnel I remained, feeling alone, feeling crazy, feeling ashamed that I felt nothing for the adorable baby boy in the next room, feeling suffocated by anxiety and the desire to want to sleep forever, and feeling like there was obviously something wrong with me because I sucked at motherhood while everyone else smiled for Facebook and Instagram with pictures of their new babies labeled with captions like “amazing,” “so in love,” “the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” or “life is complete.” And there I was, beating myself up with guilt and self-loathing because I couldn’t feel any of it.

I remained in the dark for almost six months. Somehow, magically at six months, someone or something turned the light on in my tunnel. Maybe it was my therapist. Maybe it was the antidepressants. Maybe it was the patience and determination I begrudgingly held on to. Whatever it was, I found myself putting my baby in his stroller and walking to the park by ourselves. That was the first time I voluntarily left the house on my own and not out of obligation.

More firsts followed that one. The first smile I didn’t fake. The first bath I gave my son because I chose to. The first date night I truly enjoyed without anxiety. And day by day, those firsts turned into seconds and thirds, and six months turned into a year until I lost track of how many times I was able to do something with my baby. Until I started to feel like I wanted to and could handle being a mom. Until I started to notice love and connection replace the guilt and shame.

I got better one day at a time. Postpartum depression recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. There were times when I would feel incredible for a whole week and then all of a sudden, the depression and anxiety would come back with a vengeance. And even though my therapist warned me that could happen, I would feel defeated and slide back into that dark place I thought I would never climb out of.

But I did climb out. Four years later, I’m here to tell you that it does get better. I wish I could tell you when or how long you will be in that dark place, but I can’t. We are all different and no two cases of depression are the same. All I can tell you is that it won’t be forever, but you CANNOT do it alone. You HAVE to speak up, ask for help, and willingly accept professional treatment. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t do all those things right away.

And as I stand here on the other side of postpartum depression, I’m here to tell you that I know how dark it is down there. I’ve been there. And part of my being on the other side is that I’m here to hold space for all the mamas out there suffering. I’m here to put my hand on your arm and say, “I get it,” the most powerful words we can say to another mom. The words I hope you will be able to say to another mom to let her know she’s also not alone. The words that will make it so no mom ever feels like she needs to pretend or suffer in silence. The words that can change the way we view the struggles of motherhood, because we all struggle and it’s time to say it out loud without guilt, without shame, without fear.

I still struggle. I still have days where I feel down, don’t want to get out of bed, talk to anyone including my own child and husband, and have to force myself to go through the motions of being a mom. I don’t know if that’s the postpartum depression reminding me it’s never too far away. I don’t even know if postpartum depression comes back once it goes away. Maybe I’ve always been prone to some kind of depression.

Maybe this is just me, a mom who wakes up every morning, pops my happy pill, and does the best I can. Some days that means I rock the shit out of motherhood and others it means I drop my kid off at school in the clothes I slept in, put him in front of a Paw Patrol marathon after, and hide in my room eating chocolate until my husband gets home.

Whichever day you might be having, you should be able to talk about it without the fear of being judged. Without someone offering you their opinion or trying to one up your struggle with theirs. You should be able to admit your honest feelings, cry, laugh, and get a ginormous “I get it mama” in return.

Q&A with Rebecca Fox Starr

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MOTHERHOOD | UNDERSTOOD interviews Rebecca Fox Starr about her battle with postpartum anxiety and depression and why she chose to share it with the world in her new book, Beyond the Baby Blues: Anxiety and Depression During and After Pregnancy.

Follow Rebecca on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Check out her blog, Mommy Every After.

Get your copy of Beyond the Baby Blues here

Q&A with Olivia Siegl: Every Mum Has the Right to Enjoy Motherhood

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Watch Olivia Siegl, writer, blogger, warrior mom of two precious girls, author of the amazing new book, Bonkers and founder of The Every Mum Movement chat with MOTHERHOOD | UNDERSTOOD about all things maternal mental health, Bonkers, and the movement that was born out of her battle with postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis.

Find Olivia on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Learn more about The Every Mum Movement on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Check out her blog, The Baby Bible and order Bonkers here