So Much Blah

For such a bland, nonspecific word, blah actually does a lot.

At the end of last month, I started a mood tracker to get a closer look at and more specific language for my moods.  I’d been using blah too much and too widely.

Now that I’ve been pinning my days and moods to – what I thought were – more specific descriptors, I realize just how evocative blah is for me.

Blah is not wanting to get off the couch – either from physical exhaustion or lack of motivation – or both.  Blah is not knowing where to start when faced with a day’s plan or duties.  Blah is not knowing how to structure a day with no plan or duties.  Blah is feeling off.  Blah is not wanting to get dressed because you haven’t had the time to shower or because nothing would feel as comfortable against your skin as pjs.  Blah is worrying about an unnamed idea.  Blah is not wanting to interface with people.  Blah is not eating because nothing seems appealing.  Blah is eating candy or snacks that will bring on more blah for sure – but perhaps will be a happy treat.  Blah answers the question, ‘How are you?’ with a shrug because blah really isn’t sure – even if things aren’t that bad.

Blah is a lot of ‘not wanting to’.  Blah must be a toddler.  Or a moody teenager.

Blah comes to visit me a lot – and not because I have all of those in my house.

I wanted to get away from using blah to describe my state of mind because I wanted something more specific.  I don’t know that I realized how many versions of blah there were.

In my mood tracker, I opted for descriptors like ‘not focused’, ‘not productive’, ‘unsettled’.  According to those little squares of color on my chart, there’s been a lot of unsettled lately.  I think I just switched blah for unsettled.  I need to unpack the feelings in that paragraph above and figure out the different shades of blah or unsettled or whatever I want to call it.

blahblah

from sillyoldsod.com

 

How Much I Learned from One Day of Mood Tracking

This past Sunday afternoon, I finally sat down with my thirteen year-old to create a mood tracker bullet-journal style.

It was an activity months in the making.  Once I expressed an interest, she would bring it up from time to time, asking me when we’d actually sit down and bu-jo together, as she says.  Eventually the questioning took on an annoyed tone as she began to wonder when and if it would actually happen.

Initially, it really was just a matter of scheduling.  When did we actually have an afternoon off to spend together with markers and blank books?  Looking back, I now realize there were other factors at play – none of which had to do with this lovely little being who wanted to spend time with me on the cusp of not wanting to spend time with me.  So I shoved those aside, or at least down enough for the day, so she wouldn’t begin to take things personally.  Those factors, however, say a lot about where I’m at right now.

First, I was unsure where to start.  I’ve never bullet journaled before and haven’t sketched or doodled just for the joy of it in decades.  Ain’t no mom got time for that.  And I certainly couldn’t let go enough to enjoy it.  If I was going to do this, it had to be done right and in an aesthetically pleasing manner.  And if I was going to invest time and blank page space, the information I collected had to be useful.  I wanted facts and indicators I could bring back to my practitioners to prove my case and plan of treatment.  When I finally sank into the couch with her, I realized I hadn’t started because I didn’t know which layout to use to best serve my needs.  Bless her thirteen year-old technologically saavy heart, she launched you-tube and pinterest searches in conjunction, showing me what she found.

Of course, I had to create my own hybrid version of a few I’d found.  I also think I let go of the idea of perfection for this month, figuring I won’t know what exactly works for me until I actually interface with it and can adjust as needed going forward.

After I created a grid with just over two weeks’ worth of dates running down its side, I set about choosing mood indicators to list across the top.  Five manner of emojis was not going to do it for me.  I was seeking language to differentiate blah from ennh to my physician.  I needed specific descriptors.  But choosing those descriptors was another story.  I broke out a pencil and began a list on a separate page.

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Jennifer Butler Basile

In a very short time, I realized how many more negative descriptors I had than positive ones.  Why did I have so many words appropriate for shitty ways of being than good ones?  The easy answer is that I’ve had lots of practice, apparently, with low moods.  The more difficult answer I’m still unpacking is how my mind tends to the negative.  Is my brain wired to a pessimistic program?  Or is it stuck in a rutted road of negativity since it’s been travelling in that direction for so long?  Does it need a reprogram?  Is that possible?

My final list, which I’m still not completely sold should be absolutely final, has one more negative descriptor than positive, but I forced myself to beef up the positive side so it wasn’t totally lopsided.  I also find my negative words so much more specific, evocative.  I find the positive descriptors more vague and general.  Again, I’ve been living in the land of low moods so apparently I know them better.

Writing such a raw, vulnerable list with my daughter at my elbow was unsettling to say the least.  The fact that she aided my progress both makes me proud that she’s so creative; that she’s so willing to accept me as I am.  It also makes me hopeful that perhaps an idea like tracking moods will become so commonplace to her generation that dialogue surrounding mental health will be like breathing air.  But I’m also terrified.  I’m afraid she’ll see what a broken person I am.   And not due to some ‘I’m so strong and perfect’ façade I’m trying to portray.  Just, I don’t know, that I struggle.  As in, how can I take care of her if I haven’t perfected how to care for myself?  But even as I write that, I know that’s all a part of being human and she’ll figure it out sooner or later no matter what.

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Jennifer Butler Basile

The reason I wanted a mood tracker was to turn a highly subjective entity – moods and feelings – into a quantifiable collection of data.  For some reason, I think I actually expected that by putting it into a grid would miraculously turn it from one thing to the other.  Perhaps I knew that was wishful thinking and why I postponed it for so long.  I also realized how much my procrastination is fueled by my perfectionism.  I also learned that, whatever its origin, I need to check my negativity so that it doesn’t rule my life.

So before I’ve even collected more than a day’s worth of data, my mood tracker has already proved to be an illustrative tool – in ways I may have never even imagined.

 

Post Script

The following is not advisable, nor is it recommended or endorsed by any of the information herein; the anecdotes serve as a reflection of my personal experiences. Do not take the same road I have.

 About three and a half weeks ago, I weaned myself off my antidepressant of seven years. For all the advice I’ve heard saying not to do so without medical supervision and all the times I’d poo-poo’d those who abruptly stopped medications – I weaned off my meds without medical supervision having made the decision totally independently.

I’ve written before about the panic that ratchets up watching the tablets dwindle in my amber colored bottle of sanity; about the same reasons I take them leaving me overwhelmed enough not to call the doctor for a new string of refills. It happened the same this time.

Except this time, I’d been growing ever more resentful of that daily bitter pill, something to remember, something to lean on heavily, something to possibly poison me.

In an as-yet-to-be-seen brilliant realization, I decided to space out my tablets to make them last longer – ‘until I got a refill’. I think that was my rationalization. I went down to one for several days, half for several more, and then a quarter.

Also around this time, however, I began reading A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives by Kelly Brogan. Now, if the rest of my follies here are not endorsements, this most certainly is not an endorsement of this book. It took me an awful long time to swallow – pun possibly intended – what Brogan had to say. After years of coming to terms – mostly – with taking antidepressants, here was an in-your-face account of how they were absolutely unhealthy and unnecessary. The whole first half of the book told me in no uncertain and sometimes holier-than-thou terms that I had been duped and made a terrible decision for and possibly irreparable damages to my body.

As I said, I started reading this book around the same time I was weaning. I did not read one ‘expert’s’ book and change my entire life regimen around it. As I was already tapering these ‘evil’ meds from my system, however, I was curious to see what other options could help me complete this process.

The second half of Brogan’s book is the best; the part where she gets to the heart of her mission: helping women live healthy and whole lives. I don’t know that her tone was less sanctimonious or I was better able to temper it with my own decisions of what would/would not work for me. Her plan focuses on a four-week implementation of diet, detoxing the home, meditation, exercise and sleep – a four-pronged approach to keeping the body and mind on track.

There is a lot in this book that resonates with me – some of which I already do, in fact. However, the four-pronged approach makes that panic rise in my chest almost as much as the rattle of fewer and fewer pills in the bottle.

When I started meds, feeling so like a failure for needing them (no projection, just my own neuroses), my therapist said, “this is the tenor of your life right now. Whether or not you were previously suffering with a mental illness, you were able to cope. Now, mothering several children, there are significant unalterable circumstances that make you unable to cope. Your medication can help you do so.”

Tenor still untenable.   Nothing new there. Well, actually there is a new kid.

So perfecting diet, sleep, mindfulness, exercise, clean living – all factors dependent on me, everyday, in my imperfect life is a little terrifying. Especially considering that failure, which is inevitable really, means a depressive state. No big.

Back to weaning: Brogan advises her 30 day detox before weaning to reset your system first. Ha. That may have helped. It also may have helped if I didn’t wean in the last week before my period as I prepped and embarked on a week-long trip with all four kids solo only to return, take two weeks to prep for school, and pack for one final vacation that ends on the eve of the new school year. Timing is everything.

There were times I wanted to scalp myself or my children that first week; times I wanted to scream louder than the baby refusing to just.go.to.sleep; scared that the crying jags meant my depression was coming back; irritable and snippy with my husband; and in a much lesser, yet slightly amusing development, America’s Got Talent’s package materials and any high note hit by a contestant made me well up.

Brogan warned me the withdrawal symptoms might present as a relapse of the original condition. Who’s to say I was struggling because I desperately needed the pill to supplement my body or give it a crutch?

I didn’t complete a long yoga session last week seeking clarity of mind in regards to all this. I was finally sick and scared enough at the skin and muscle getting looser around my frame and the big kids were shoe shopping with their grandparents. The amount of tension in my muscles shocked me. I sobbed at even the slightest release of it. Not the wet, slimy tears of a betrayal or breakdown, but the semi-silent, breath-catching heaves of chest with a few slick tears sliding down from the corner of eyes when I unsquinched them long enough to let them fall. I didn’t realize how much I’d been carrying until I tried to let it go.

And that was just the physical.

As trite as it may be, I had an epiphany on the yoga mat that morning. Even if I was taking medication to take care of my mental health, I wasn’t taking care of my self. I’d forgotten to force time for the things that keep my soul alive. Stretching, meditative thought and moments, reading, writing.

Did I need to stop meds to hit rock bottom hard enough to make the burning fire of my calves burn a hole in my consciousness? Perhaps not. Would I recommend cessation of meds as a path to clarity? No. But stopping meds to see where my mind and body were at this point in my life, nearly eight years out from the offending episode of postpartum, and then having such a visceral reaction to the stress in my life and body – that sent me an important message.

Regardless of what my decisions are in regard to lifestyle and care, self-care must be part of it. Placebo or perfect chemistry, a pill isn’t a miracle. All cylinders of my life, my soul must be firing.

Life will never be perfect. Even if I decide to follow Brogan’s regimen or another with or without meds, there will be times I fail. I can’t control circumstances outside my body, my sphere – hell, even in my sphere. (Did I mention I have four children?) But perhaps with the balance of self-care, I can temper the abberations. It’s a tall order, but right now, it’s keeping my mind centered on care – not maintenance or even just keeping the lid on.

That’s a pretty compelling read for me.

‘An Insidious Disease’

Source: providencejournal.com

I’ve had this article in my archives for a while now (click above for link).  Shanley offers a great primary source of living with depression.  Also, mental health’s place in greater society.

“Mental health has a bad PR firm.  It only seems to be on our radar when a well-known individual speaks to it, either in life or death, or when there is a mass killing.  Suicide is a word rarely spoken, and if so, only in whispers in back rooms.  Some of us know people who have stood on a bridge.  Some walked down.  Others did not.”

When does a perinatal mood disorder start?

Please read on to pinpoint when you or a woman close to you will begin to see signs of a perinatal mood and/or anxiety disorder.

  • When two lines appear on the pregnancy test
  • When pregnancy is unexpected
  • When pregnancy is finally achieved
  • When pregnancy is not achieved
  • When the mother loses the baby
  • When the mother chooses not to have the baby
  • When the adoption falls through
  • When the drastic changes in lifestyle that having a baby will induce begin to occur:
    • nausea
    • extreme exhaustion
    • no more wine with dinner or beer after a rough day
    • limited mobility
  • When the hormones at flux in the pregnant body affect thought processes
    • heightened anxiety at the amazing responsibility of growing and then caring for a baby
    • fear of the unknown or varied outcomes of gestation, labor, delivery, and aftercare
    • ambivalence over the new self the mother must create or become
    • mourning the loss of the former self
  • When medication regimens must be altered due to unknown effects of routine prescriptions on the fetus
  • When mother worries and feels guilty about continuing medication and its effects on fetus
  • When mother suffers a loss during pregnancy
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    postpartumpathways.com

    • death of a loved one
    • separation from partner
  • When the mother has no partner or support person
  • When a drastic transition occurs during pregnancy
    • moving homes and/or locations
    • away from support network
    • loss of own or partner’s employment
  • When labor and/or delivery does not go as planned or expected
  • Traumatic labor and/or delivery
    • physical trauma
    • emotional or psychological trauma
  • Complicated recovery from labor and/or delivery
    • infection
    • injury
  • When adoption is complete
  • Unexpected medical condition in infant
  • Loss of infant
  • Difficulty feeding infant
    • breastfeeding
    • colic
    • reflux
    • allergies
    • tongue tied
  • Extreme fatigue recovering from labor and caring for newborn around the clock
  • No routine
  • No schedule
  • No down time – constantly being needed, touched, suckled
  • Disappointment at real life not matching imagined version of motherhood
  • Hormones further thrown into flux after baby-growing part of process complete
  • Stress
  • Too much interference and advice from others
  • Not enough support and help from others
  • Isolation
  • Weaning child from breast (days, weeks, years after birth)
  • Being sole caregiver for a fragile, totally dependent being

After reading this list, it should be an incredibly simple and precise process to pinpoint exactly when you or a woman close to you will exhibit signs of a perinatal mood disorder. Diagnosing and treating it should be even simpler. And recovery? Piece of cake.


Hopefully it is quite obvious that the way I’ve chosen to frame this list is tongue in cheek. The individual items on the list are anything but. They are varied; some mutually exclusive and many overlapping – to show that there is no one road map for predicting, preventing, diagnosing, or treating perinatal mood disorders. Perinatal mood disorders come in many different forms with many different time lines. The one surefire tool to helping yourself or a woman close to you who is suffering is awareness. Awareness of the myriad possible causes and many symptoms that can present. And then reaching out.

To her. To your physician. Midwife. OB. GYN. Pediatrician. Counselor. Therapist. Psychologist. Psychiatrist. Friend. Mother. Partner. Neighbor.

With an illness this insidious, multi-faceted, and far-reaching, silence is not an option. The lives of our mothers, babies, and families depend upon it.

Many Peaces of Mind

By sharing our stories, we encourage others to do the same.

This was a major theme of the Peace of Mind Storytellers Series I attended yesterday. By breaking the silence surrounding mental illness, we also break the stigma. We allow people to admit and accept the struggle and begin recovery.

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As an anxious person (also mere weeks away from delivering a child), attending a day-long event with hundreds of people I’d never met solo was a little nerve-wracking. But I’d been awarded a free ticket through a generous contest by a local mental health facility, Butler Hospital. I’d been following and loving the organization sponsoring the event, PeaceLove Studios, for several years. And the format of the event, like our state’s own local version of TED Talks, sounded pretty cool. As a writer, I am a little obsessed with stories, after all. Add the mental health aspect and I was hooked.

Once the speakers started rolling out, I realized this was not just like our state’s own local version of TED Talks, it basically was one. The speakers hailed from around the country and world. They ranged from college students to policy-makers and changers to international celebrities. While I hadn’t recognized all the names beforehand, I was impressed by the vitae of these individuals – and even more so by the enthralling stories they shared.

wp-1463799329728.jpgLike Faith Jegede-Cole who said mental health has to do with the health of your soul. Michael Thompson who said the goal is not to focus on just the 1 in 4 who suffers from mental illness, but all 4 – to get the others to listen. Kate Milliken whose own family’s silence over mental illness moved her to create a platform for patients and caregivers living with MS to share their experiences. Amelia Grumbach wishing someone else would take control of her life because she couldn’t/didn’t trust herself to do so. Philip Sheppard, a soul-stirring cellist, urging the attack of any creative endeavor without the fear of creating crap. Simon Majumdar saved by love of food and its serving of soul. The rhythm of Steve Gross’ (left) spoken word carrying the buoyant message of the right attitude affecting everything. Butterscotch following her heart’s desire without compromising for anyone. The mother’s love of A.J. Wilde holding her son, Devin, as he found the key to unlock his autism. Ryan Brunty’s lovable yetis expressing the depression he’d been living with silently beforehand. Stephanie Prechter’s fierce devotion to learning as much as possible to support and treat people like herself and her father who suffer with bipolar disorder. Mark Hedstrom moving Movember into the mental health space. Ross Szabo creating a curriculum so that mental health is not something we look at only when something’s wrong, but taught much like physical health education from kindergarten to grade 12 and beyond.

The wide range of experiences of these speakers broadened my perspective of mental illness and health. One of the speakers said, after all, we all have stuff; we’re all human. There are different brands and flavors and struggles, but one thing we all have in common is trying to walk this world with grace and contentment – at least most of the time.

All of these storytellers did so yesterday with beauty. Through their various creative presentations, they gave swell to that part of the soul that makes one glad to be alive, through the ugly and transcendent, the low and the dizzying highs.

The Peace of Mind Storytellers showed in a grand way what PeaceLove Studios is doing everyday: using expressive arts as a therapeutic device for all individuals languishing, battling, flailing, and/or surviving life with mental illness. What ninety participants got to take part in after the series of speakers. Myself included.

I was transported back to the first PeaceLove workshop I’d attended with a friend a few years ago. While in a different space with different people, the atmosphere was the same: a safe place to create, process, emote, and share. Several participants commented that they didn’t consider themselves artistic, but due to the open-ended nature of the activity and low-pressure environment, they enjoyed creating. Another said that while she hadn’t started with any idea in mind, a plan slowly took shape on her canvas – and that it was symbolic and cohesive. I felt similarly. Exhausted at the end of a long day, I didn’t think I was up for any grand metaphor. But what rose to the surface in that quiet, stream of consciousness state was perhaps exactly what my psyche needed at this time. Indeed, what came out reminded me of my constant struggle for balance. But in that gentle unfolding, it wasn’t frustrating as it usually is, but a quiet reminder that it’s a process, about maintaining peace of mind, not achieving it and moving on.

In the grand and small movements of my day at the Peace of Mind Storytellers Series, the ebb and flow of life was reflected. The entire day was a reflection of life at its best and worst and the journey we all make together. Bound by our stories and in the sharing, we can achieve peace of mind indeed.

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Painting by Jeffrey Sparr, PeaceLove co-founder

Locked On

They put the baby lo-jack on the umbilical stump.

If I had to choose one phrase illustrating how relaxed my most recent and hopefully last tour of a maternity ward was, that would be it.

It may not seem like much, but to me, it’s a huge deal.

Over six years ago, it was an errant lo-jack slipping off my baby’s slender little ankle that precipitated my fall into postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PPMAD). Her squirming and that slipping gave my irrational mind the fuel it needed to doubt whether I was taking home the right baby.

I haven’t had that fear this time or denial or doubt, and the nurse only mentioned that additional bit of information as we headed for the elevator, but it capped our visit in the best way possible. As the elevator doors slid shut, I looked at my husband with relief and said if she’d told us nothing else, our tour was worth that one statement.

It’s an odd sensation that washes over one as she walks the floors she knows she’ll next be pacing in pain. To see the calm, the fresh beds, the quiet daylight streaming in the windows. I know the harsh fluorescent lights will glare, the linens no longer be fresh, the quiet replaced with beeps and moans and directions. It’s enough to put anyone on edge – either a woman trying to anticipate something she’s never experienced before or one who knows all too well what to expect.

This fourth tour I’ve taken was the least anxious I’ve ever been, however. It was due in large part to the relaxed community atmosphere of this particular ward. I think I also have finally realized that how ever much I dread labor, there is no way around it, only through it.

The nurse was very low-key, gentle and calming, as she shared information and answered our questions. When I asked about labor positions and modifications due to a weak pubic bone, she explained how the end of the bed came off, a yoga ball could be used, a kneel or squat bar . . . she even said she’d make a note in my chart to request an automatic PT consult after the birth. I wanted to hug and kiss her.

And then she made my day even better when she shared the positioning of the lo-jack. I hadn’t mentioned anything about my postpartum experience last time. I hadn’t mentioned that a tiny locator device could be such a trigger. I hadn’t expressed any concerns about security. Maybe it was just that we were approaching the locked door of the ward as the tour ended, but she told us hospitals have changed procedure to attach the device on the umbilical stump because it can’t fall off.

With that one bit of information, that I hadn’t known I needed to hear or was even a possibility, my mind opened up. The iron grip of anxiety I’d unwittingly been living with lifted – if only enough to let me breathe. To see that this labor and delivery and recovery will be different. There will be no fear concerning the baby.

I am hers, she is mine. Everything will happen as it should.

baby feet

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In my Resting, In my Rising

I chase down cures in my dreams,
seeking the open office door,
the present practicioner,
but they’re never there, never open.

Test after trial, trial after tribulation
No solution in sight.
Tablet, pill, capsule.
Needle, scale, survey.

No magic bullet.

There are symptoms, there are diagnoses,
but no cure.
No point of origin to return to and restart.

I want someone to fill this hollow inside –
but the only cure is in there as well.
It lies at the core of me,
but I am so very tired . . .
and cannot wake from this nightmare.

Stuff We All Get

When I got married, I inherited a staggering amount of pharmaceutical office supplies. Some women marry into wealth. Some women carry a substantial dowry; others, a hope chest full of handmade linens and needlework. I got a cardboard box full of sticky note pads and ball point pens bearing the name of brand-name drugs. A distant cousin on my husband’s paternal side, a salesman for a pharmaceutical company, had a wealth of such products himself, to which I was now a party.

Not one to turn up my nose at anything free, I welcomed this surfeit of stationery. The pen on a lanyard came in handy as I made circuits around my classroom – not only did hanging it about my neck ensure I didn’t lose it, but the big block letters emblazoned along the side. You found an Androgel pen, you say? That’s mine. Unless there was another twenty-something female teacher with stock in Androgel, there was no doubt who the pen’s rightful owner was.

However, this example also illustrates one of the disadvantages of pharmaceutical swag. Your use of said promotional product could be construed as endorsement of said drug.

This wasn’t a problem with the note cube advertising Flonase. Nasal congestion and seasonal allergies don’t carry much of a stigma with them. No one cares if your nose is running or you’re snorting floral scented mist up it. Same with the cute little calculator whose flip-top lid schilled for blood pressure medication. No one will judge me for the inner cleanliness of my arteries.

But I always thought of my audience when I wrote a note on the Wellbutrin pad.

I didn’t want anyone to think that I actually needed an antidepressant; that I was such a frequent flier, I’d earned promotional prizes; that the ‘dealer’ and I were such good buds, I got benefits.

Forget that it doesn’t work that way. It’s not like filling the card of stamps at the grocery store of yore to earn a full set of ceramic dishware. One doesn’t get a sticker for each pill ingested. But I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea . . . whatever that meant.

Fast-forward nine years and I’d be fighting my own internal battle with stigma as I debated whether to go on low-level sertraline while I battled postpartum depression. I did. Don’t know which side of stigma won, but I started on the meds I’m still on today.

Today.

The day irony served me a big slap in the face.

The day my physician suggested I add Wellbutrin to my prescription regimen – because sertraline doesn’t seem to be cutting it; because I need a ‘lift’ in the morning to get me going; because while I don’t have ADHD, I need help focusing, prioritizing; because all my labs came back normal and there is no organic reason for my symptoms other than plain old depression and anxiety.

Whoop-ti-do-da-freakin’ DAY.

Four to five years after I started my first antidepressant. Two to three years after I finally (or so I thought) came to terms with ‘succumbing’ to the help of an antidepressant.

Seemingly light years away from that time when I humorously pointed out the name on a sticky-sided square of paper – thinking my worst worry was that people would mistake me for a person who needed medicinal balancing of her brain chemicals.

I have so much more to worry about now.

More to the Story

I spent an hour and a half sitting on the basement floor of my local library the other morning.  I’d found the general Dewey decimal neighborhood I’d wanted and set about meeting the locals.

One good thing about living in a small town on a frigid morning and rushing the library doors as soon as they open is that you have nearly the whole place to yourself.  I was the one who flipped on the banks of fluorescent lights as I descended the stairs.  I sipped from my travel mug of tea as I decided which books would aid me in my research journey.  I read nearly an entire chapter of one that I eventually set back on the shelf – one I’ll certainly return to, but didn’t match the goals of today’s project.

Today’s project is preventing postpartum depression.

Though I checked out nine books, welcoming jokes from the clerks at the front desk as to what kind of wagon I’d need to transport them to the car, none is about postpartum depression.  One is about ‘regular old’ depression.  Others have a few pages, maybe a section specifically about postpartum.  But not one of the towering stack I selected gave an in-depth discussion of postpartum depression.

In the online catalog of our state’s inter-library system, there were some, but still not that many.  And none that looked, on first glance, like they offered the kind of practical information and solace that a woman in the throes of postpartum would want or need.  I know.  It doesn’t take much to put myself back to that hopeless place I experienced myself.

I ended up checking out mostly childbirth preparation books or ‘how-to’ guides to pregnancy, which made my children, upon seeing Mommy read a book with a woman’s round belly on the front, very suspicious.  Two of my girls put in orders for a baby brother.  I asked my eldest if she’d want me to be pregnant, to which she said, no, but if you were I’d want a brother.  Only now do I see the irony in their thinking I needed to read another book about pregnancy after three times around the mountain.

Been there, done that.

But this time, I was trying to read these pregnancy preparation books with new eyes.  Having been through it and having had the experiences I did, what would help me do it differently?  Or more importantly, what support systems would have kept me from plunging into the depths of despair?  And how can I apply those to helping other women?

I was surprised to enjoy Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (Ina May Gaskin) as much as I did.  I figured that title would be one I skimmed to find anecdotes or info pertaining to postpartum, but I am thoroughly enjoying delving into the personal accounts of unhurried, gradual childbirths.  I am rediscovering the empowering parts of my own labors and deliveries – the first two for their strengths and victories, the last for my eventual triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds.  With that last one as my capstone, I’d forgotten the positive parts of pregnancy and childbirth.  Remembering that gives me something to help women to which to aspire.

The disparity between parts of my own experience and beautiful birth stories brings into sharp focus those areas that can serve as triggers, flashpoints for distress and disorder.  And by beautiful, I do not mean perfect or idyllic.  As Anne Cushman says in The Mindful Way Through Pregnancy, “labor and delivery are wild and messy and animal and angry and bloody and painful.  The transcendent act of giving birth is made up of the earthiest of elements: bodily fluids, a hospital gown stained with blood and excrement, the bruises left on your partner’s arm by the agonized grip of your fingers.” (Piver 16)  All this is normal, to be expected.  That’s not what we need to worry about.  We (women, mothers, humans, physicians, therapists, ob/gyns, midwives) need to help women recognize when there is cause to worry.

So maybe sitting on the floor of my local library and freaking my kids out with pictures of the ocarina found in one of my books will help me figure out how exactly to do that.  As with anything, it’s all about dialogue.  Whether that dialogue comes through books at the library, blog posts, or conversations with doctors, expectant and newborn mothers need to know there’s more to the story.

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