How Is Your Mental Health?

A call to shed the stigmas and speak up about our own experiences, not just support those endured by our loved ones.
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I don't typically pull up a chair and address readers directly, but the current state of women has me concerned. Kate Spade's tragic death was a shocking reminder of what I suspected and can attest to personally: women, myself included, are still not taking care of themselves. 

This is not a post about "self-care," though self-care an obvious component. This is about breaking down stigmas, being vulnerable, letting go of perfection and most importantly, this is about essential preventative health services that even when offered are often under utilized by women. 

I spoke with Caroline Bradbury, a friend who is also a therapist, and asked her for her thoughts on the state of mental health for women of "an uncertain age." Her response was that when she sees women in this demographic, they are usually there at the urging of their other female friends. 

"In my personal experience, and what I see with clients, is that it’s the women in our lives who seem to sense when we need support and will offer guidance, empathy, validation and concrete resources."

If we are advocating for other women, why are we not advocating for ourselves? How many of us are willing to lend a listening ear but unwilling to share our own struggles? I know this is a conversation that is as old as the day is long. I was raised in a home where the things that happened behind closed doors were "family business," a term that was most certainly handed down from my mother's tumultuous upbringing during a time when divorces were non-existent and being raised by the father figure in the household unheard of. The closed doors and closed mouths kept unwanted attention and worse, uncontrolled conversations, at bay. 

So eight years ago when I found myself five months postpartum with my first child, unable to focus or to find the energy to do daily tasks, I knew what was wrong, even though I did not want to admit it. A string of events had brought me to this place and though I had no desire to hurt myself or my child, I did feel like if something were to have happened to me it would have been no great loss. I had dealt with mild depression in the past, bouts that had been healed with therapy, some additional exercise and time, but this was different. I could not find the energy to explain or understand my emotions, I was withdrawn and felt like a shell of myself, a ghost. This was the state I had been in for months and I let it go on because I was afraid and ashamed. I was afraid of what people would think and what they would say. I was ashamed because I thought it was my fault, and I was embarrassed for not being strong enough to surmount the emotions on my own. This was family business and closed mouths and closed doors gave an illusion of control. I now understood, the apple did not fall far from the tree. 

A photo of Winslow and me shortly after he was born. 

A photo of Winslow and me shortly after he was born. 

But on this particular day, something happened. I picked up the phone and called my midwives. Choking through sobs I said "I don't know what is wrong with me, but I think I might have postpartum depression. I don't recognize myself, and I feel like I suck at everything," to which the gracious voice on the end of the line responded, "Well, that is too bad because everyone here thinks you are pretty awesome." 

That call was one of the best decisions I have made, my only regret is that I did not make it sooner. And according to Caroline, my reaction to seeking help is not rare or unique. 

"I think there is almost always a huge sense of relief felt in the room when a woman comes to therapy for the first time and can say what she's really feeling. 'It feels so good to say that out loud' is so often said and when it’s validated and empathized it seems like a sense of relief and letting go of self-judgement happens, which creates space for healing and growth."

My road to recovery was long, "a marathon, not a sprint," as I was oft reminded. It was only within the last year that I was able to not make excuses for the "depression" tag listed under the pre-existing conditions section of my chart at the doctor's office. And it was only within the last six months that I realized that this is going to be a condition I deal with for the rest of my life, in one way, shape or form. 

Now, I am still much more comfortable being the ear to lend versus the sharing friend (a work in progress). My postpartum experience and dealing with the spells of depression since have taught me a few things, most importantly: nothing is permanent and you will never regret asking for help when you need it most. 

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