What Tully is Really About

When I saw the first trailer for Tully a few months ago, I was excited.  A full-length feature film that portrayed the real story of new motherhood?  The heartache, the frustration, the despair?  I was ready to book my mom’s night out right then.

 

What Tully is not about – or only part of the picture

 

But something stayed my hand from hitting the share button.  Even in a thirty second promo, her night nurse seemed too good to be true.  How could she possibly say the right thing at the exact right time every single time?  And do it all with the Zen voice of a life coach?  Or not even.  Like a lover trying to woo Charlize Theron’s character, Marlo.  I wasn’t sure what, but something was off.

A few days later, a fellow maternal mental health advocate sounded the alarm.  Read Graeme Seabrook’s take here.  More problems arose as the days went on, though.  Apparently, Tully is not just a flawed character; she does not exist at all.  She is entirely a creation of Marlo’s mind.  No wonder she was too good to be true.

In the film, Marlo apparently does receive a diagnosis of postpartum depression.  The plot does admit that her behavior and experience are not ‘normal’.  She does suffer from a condition of mental illness – except postpartum depression is not what it is.  Marlo suffers from postpartum psychosis.

As explained in a recent HuffPost article on the subject:

Postpartum depression is characterized by feelings of anger, irritability, guilt, shame, hopelessness, and sadness, but delusions, strange beliefs and hallucinations are symptoms more in line with a diagnosis of postpartum psychosis, as are cases of infanticide, according to Postpartum Support International (PSI).

The fact that the extreme separate reality Marlo has created is attributed to postpartum depression is dangerous.  If we take this film at face value, which many viewers will if they have no experience with maternal mental health, two things may happen.  One, women who do not have hallucinations will not seek help because they don’t feel they’re that bad.  Two, women who do not have hallucinations but suffer from debilitating depression (or anxiety or OCD) will be seen as mothers who will harm their children.  Women are already afraid to seek out the help they so desperately need when suffering from maternal mental health issues.  If they also have to fear being deemed unfit to care for their children, they will even less likely to obtain and benefit from treatment.

Society already sees every mother with postpartum depression as one with those who desperately drown their children.  As recently as this January, police were called to a California emergency room when a mother requested help for postpartum mental health concerns.  There is enough stigma to fight without movies like Tully perpetuating myths and muddying the water advocates fight daily to clear.

A star-powered film in mainstream cinema has tremendous potential to slay such myths and spread awareness.  What a squandered opportunity.  Many mental health advocates are asking, why didn’t they ask us?  If only Jason Reitman or Diablo Cody had consulted professionals and organizations for the full picture.  But honestly, I don’t think the Hollywood players working on this film are concerned with the women who will come to this movie looking for a funny cathartic look at their real life, but instead get sneak-attack triggered by the surprise turn of events.  They are more concerned with plot; with a compelling, unexpected story.  They are dealing with fictional characters, after all.  Except that they have failed to take into account the devastating effect their largest imaginary character will have on their very real viewers.

Even writers of fiction must research their topic, their time period.  Even in fiction, world-building must be believable.  Egregious errors ruin the integrity of the world, the characters, the entire experience.  Not only did those responsible for Tully fail sufferers and survivors of maternal mental illness, but the standards of good writing as well.

From the moment this film was named, it took power away from mothers – the very first being Marlo.  It’s not her story.  It becomes the story of her illness.  Maternal mental illness does overshadow the mother in its darkest depths.  But it does not define the woman.  The most compelling part of the story should be the journey out of those depths.  A mother’s eventual triumph, not her despair.  Tully totally misses that.

 


Another great discussion of the film from Motherly here

No More Smoke Screens

Last Wednesday, I had my six week follow-up appointment after the birth of my newest baby girl. The six weeks that had elapsed seemed like an eternity and yet instantaneous – like any spool of time surrounding a major life event does.

In the thick of summer vacation, I marched my older three girls into the office with me. Not ideal, but with the aid of electronic devices and some seats just outside the examination room door, I was able to avoid the embarrassment of an internal exam with the oldest two looking on and retching. I stationed my six year old’s chair full of crayons and coloring books at my head, the infant nestled in my chest.

Upon my arrival, the receptionist handed me the ubiquitous clipboard with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. I knew it was coming. I was actually looking forward to it. I took it in hand almost giddily. There were a few reasons for this.

1. I didn’t need it.

Just a few days after the birth of my baby, a visiting nurse came to our house. Since it was a holiday weekend, we weren’t able to get an appointment with our pediatrician to check our breastfed baby’s weight and absence of jaundice so the hospital arranged for the home visit. While I expected the nurse to check the baby, she also looked after me, administering an EPDS. My score fell far below the range of danger for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Ever the overachiever, I joked with my husband that was a test I’d happily fail.

2.  But if I did, my answers to these questions would signal to my practitioners what sort of help I needed.

3.  If they gave the questionnaire to me, they gave it to all postpartum patients, which meant that all women had access to help if they were struggling.

epds

Jennifer Butler Basile

Still, when I handed the clipboard to the nurse in the examination room, and she followed up with questions like, ‘Have you ever thought of harming yourself or the baby?’, she asked them in a hushed voice. She apologized, saying she had to ask everyone.  Her tone insinuated it wasn’t me that was crazy, but it was her job to ask every mother in case one of them was. I knew part of her low volume was to spare my very aware six-year-old the world of suicide and psychosis, but I knew that wasn’t all of it. The apologies were born of shame, stigma; to separate me from those ‘tainted’ women, those we can’t speak of, for fear of ‘catching’ what they have.

But I was like them. I had what they had. I was just six years out.

Six years earlier, I would’ve been scared off by whispers like that. I wouldn’t have answered truthfully, if I’d thought it would smear me with that shame. Not because I didn’t need help. Not because I wasn’t having irrational thoughts. Not because I knew how to fix it myself. Because I felt that saying yes would be submitting to defeat.

I’m not trying to pin the shortcomings of postpartum care on this one nurse. If anything, this one nurse’s demeanor only shows just how difficult it is to discuss these matters. But the only reason I didn’t face these struggles this time is because someone asked the tough questions. Because a friend, a mother who had gone through the same struggles insisted I get help. And because once I healed, I knew how to prepare and preempt the struggles this time.

So wave the clipboard proudly. Answer the questions honestly. Ask for help loudly.

Mental health screenings should elucidate symptoms, not throw up smoke screens.

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.

Quizzical

 

Which character on Downton Abbey are you most like? What color represents your personality? What does your favorite fruit say about you?

Every time one logs onto his or her social media venue of choice, there is an endless supply of such quizzes. I admit, a few have piqued my interest. Perhaps it’s the ever present quest to find ‘my dream job’ that almost lured me into taking that one. But I never wanted to waste precious spare moments on such an endeavor and certainly didn’t want to link up my personal details with some outside entity. One quiz in particular that scrolled across my screen, however, hit me in a personal way even without relinquishing my information.

What mental disorder do you kind of have?

First of all, the qualifier ‘kind of’ is a slap in the face. Those who ‘full on’ have a mental disorder know there’s nothing ‘kind of’ about it. The questions dilute the struggles and pain of common side effects of these conditions, such as a misplaced pattern in a range of tiles. In a list of adjectives to describe oneself, the choices range from sad to crazy. One choice for the question ‘Are you an active person?’ is ‘No, I’m super lazy’. Is that how pop culture would describe the malaise brought on by clinical depression? I don’t think that’s how one suffering from it would. In a range of pictoral representations of one’s demeanor at a party, there are gross caricatures of stereotypical mental states. In terms of treatment, one question asks whether one would choose talking to a trusted individual or taking pills. Is that an either/or question? Is one any less noble than the other?

house party

After completing the quiz, here was my diagnosis:

 

OCD, or obsessive–compulsive disorder, is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry. You, while being completely healthy, know your fair share of disturbing and worrying thoughts. Don’t you worry, you’re perfectly fine. Just stop thinking.

Yeah, cuz it’s just that easy. Never mind that fact that I’ve never actually received such a clinical diagnosis, but to dilute overcoming OCD to simply ‘stop thinking’?

I get that I’m taking a silly quiz much more seriously than it was ever meant to be taken. I see the other quizzes in the side bar that invite me to find the decade I was born in or the quote that best describes my life. But forgive me for taking a possibly egregious offense to putting a real life daily-lifelong struggle alongside such drivel. Is this what we’re up against? The stigma surrounding mental illness will never be shattered with online memes like this. I’m all for humor, but this is the kind that pokes fun like a bully on the bus. This is not the release valve, instructive humor that is healthy.

Sorry if I’m ‘kind of’ offended.

 

 

Peace, Love, None of the Hair Grease

1 in 4 Americans live with a diagnosable mental illness – often in silence. 2/3 of all people with a mental illness won’t get the help they need or deserve due to stigma. Together with family and friends mental illness impacts us all, yet remains misunderstood and talked about behind closed doors.*

And yet, right in my own backyard, I am proud to say, is a fabulous organization taking monumental strides at destroying this phenomenon – and giving people peace of mind in the process.

PeaceLove

PeaceLove Studios, the brainchild of Jeffrey Sparr, offers art workshops for people affected by mental illness in all its forms, creates apparel featuring the logo he’d like to become the symbol of mental health awareness and open dialogue, and a safe and positive place for those met with misunderstanding and fear to land.

The world could always use some more peace and love.  Thankfully, there are people like the good folks at PeaceLove Studios to help spread it.

* information from the PeaceLove Studios website

You Got Some ‘Splainin to Do

i-love-lucy

This morning my daughter sat down to some interesting breakfast reading.

Coming home late after an evening “med check” appointment with my physician, I had left the visit summary on the dining room table.  Yesterday’s visit went swimmingly well.  No problems to report.  Successful treatment measures.  A-ok – until the next six month visit.

The chart information on the second half of the sheet told a different story, though; that of my history.  The medication I’m on; my ‘problem list’.

Depressive Disorder Not Elsewhere Classified.

I’m hoping that eight years old is not old enough to know what that means.  Hell, I don’t really know what that means.  The first time I saw it, I stopped in my tracks.  I remember the NOS designation on IEPs from my teaching days.  I remember the frustration of parents and teachers who knew something was up, but no diagnosis could be made.  How would this individual get the help he or she needed without a direction to go in?

Now that was me!

My eight year old wouldn’t be able to recognize the name of the medication I’m on either, Sertraline sounding more like a foreign language than a medicine to help her mother get through life.

Thank God, in this case, for medical illiteracy.  I’m all for blowing apart the stigma, but haven’t quite figured out how to explain it to my young children yet.  How much information would help them see it’s perfectly acceptable to struggle and receive help and how much would open them to an overwhelming, suffocating side of this world they don’t need to know exists yet?

I didn’t know there was a family history of whatever the hell ails my family until I was an adult starting to suffer from similar problems myself.  As a child, there was an underlying tension at family gatherings, but having no explanation and no other frame of reference, I just thought that was how it was.  Do I let my kids live in ignorant ‘bliss’?  Do I give my oldest an age-appropriate mete-ing out of Momma’s struggles so she doesn’t think she’s responsible for Momma’s wrath?  Or will I be giving them the framework for their own self-fulfilling depressive prophecy?

All important questions.  All of whose answers will remain unspecified for now, just like my diagnosis.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around all this.

The Brand of Crazy I Am

I guarded my postpartum depression diagnosis like a dirty little secret.

While I felt a certain measure of peace at having a name for the pit I seemed to be peering out of, it didn’t translate to shouting it loud enough to be heard above the rim of that pit.  It didn’t even encourage me to tell my family.

After I nursed the baby and put her down for the night, I’d tuck the other two into bed saying, “Mama’s going to the doctor.”  It was never the therapist, or my LICSW, or someone I need to bare my soul to in order to process what’s going on in my heart and head.

I didn’t want to be one of those people.  The ones who lie on the couch to be psychoanalyzed.  The ones who aren’t normal, who can’t cope, who have problems.

And that was just the ‘me’ stuff.  Slathered on top of that was a thick coating of mommy guilt, seeping down into the crevices and open spaces.  What kind of mother was I if I couldn’t care for my own brood?  Blessed with three gorgeous, healthy children, why couldn’t I be happy?

I didn’t want anyone to see what a failure I was as a mother or how broken I was as a person.

I still have misgivings about sharing TMI on my blog.  I invited all my Facebook friends, many of whom I haven’t seen in years and knew me in former incarnations, from my personal profile to ‘like’ my author page on which I share links to these blog posts.  But did I want these acquaintances to know just what brand of crazy I am?

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If I’ve learned nothing else during this experience, it’s that having nothing to hide takes away whatever shame there is.  Being completely open is what destroys the stigma.

And as far as postpartum goes, I believe it helps other women get the help they need.  In the surreal realm of new motherhood, it’s easy to feel completely alone.  Start adding feelings not featured on any Hallmark card and there’s no way in hell you’re going to seek someone out to admit to them.  But if you heard just one story, just one little anecdote similar to yours, you might, just might, open your mouth and let yours fly bit by bit.

May is Mental Health Month

Is there a reason that any 31 (or 30 or 28) days of the year should be any more important than the 334 (or 335 or 337) others to celebrate and promote a certain cause?  No.

Does a catchy phrase, vibrant color, or ribbon bring more attention to said cause?  Yes.

There are certain causes that should be mainstream knowledge, part of the collective consciousness of our society, but are not.  That, I suppose, is where car magnets, PSAs on cereal boxes, and fundraisers come in.  And that is why I’m challenging myself this month to raise awareness about a silently insidious disease, disorder, condition.

Mental Health.

Just as autism’s umbrella has opened wide to shelter a great number of conditions, so has mental health become an amoeba wriggling its hulking mass into more and more areas.

And it’s the amoeba in the corner of the room that no one is talking about.

I came across the blog, A Canvas of the Minds, a few months ago.  They have many thought-provoking posts written by a talented cross-section of writers.  Their initiative, Blogging for Mental Health 2013, is a brilliant idea.  blogformentalhealth20131I so wanted to join in the challenge and proudly post their badge on my blog, but I felt I didn’t quite fit the mold.  Their network is of blogs dedicated to discussing mental health issues.  Mine is about chopping potatoes and motherhood.  The way I navigate daily life and motherhood is shaped by the state of my mental health, but that would not be the main focus of each and every entry.

But I want to salute them and their initiative.  And I encourage you to join them in their quest to make mental health something people are not afraid to talk about.  Worrying about how other people see us should not be one more challenge we need to face as we struggle to make life livable.

 

 

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