07 January 2014

Living through tornadoes

The morning of Good Friday in 1991, I was sitting at the kitchen table with my mom and my brother, eating breakfast. Breakfast that morning was blueberry poptarts. Dad was in the bathroom at the other end of the house taking a shower. The weather was awful at our house in Marietta, GA. There was a thunderstorm unlike anything I can remember ever seeing before that. Despite being approximately 8:30am, it was as dark as midnight outside, except for the flashes of lightning which were so bright, they lit everything up like it was high noon. It was raining. Specifically, it was raining really hard, and the wind was blowing the rain completely sideways. The thunder seemed nearly constant and shook the house on the foundation. I remember my mom going to the front door to look outside and my brother and I followed her. I remember looking over and seeing our American flag blowing wildly and asking if we should bring it in. The radio was playing in the background but I don't remember what it was saying, it seems like it was the "wah wah wah" that you hear when adults speak in a Charlie Brown cartoon.

Suddenly, Mom said we had to get down to the basement. We lived in Georgia so people actually had basements underneath the house, down in the ground and everything. I remember following her and, despite me going as fast as I could, she was dragging me and I was stumbling. The steps were so steep as they went down into darkness, down into the ground where everything was cool and still.

We sat there in the basement, listening, straining our ears, trying to hear what was going on upstairs as a tornado disrupted our lives and tore up our house. On his website, my dad describes the tornado activity across the county and in our neighborhood/over and around our house:

"We would later find out that six maximum force tornadoes (winds measured well over 250MPH) all touched down in close proximity in the county essentially simultaneously. A friend on the south side of Atlanta (we were north) called because he had seen on eyewitness news there had been a tornado near us, and wondered if we had seen it. Andre', my best friend, called. "Pray for Darlene & the boys - they were hit in the car by a tornado! They're all shaken up; I'm going to try to get to them now." We had to laugh. We'd been through so much with them - here we went again! (They turned out to be fine, other than being shaken up.)

One tornado had come through the neighborhood, straight across the street, tearing up homes left and right. Another had gone right through the woods behind us; they had crossed by our back property line (after, we found, following roughly parallel courses for over a mile). There was a 50 yard swath cut through the woods at about 5 feet off the ground. All the tree tops were laid out nicely in the same direction - like Paul Bunyan and Babe had just gone through or something."

All of this was going on while we sat in the basement, scared of not only the tornado but scared for Dad, who was still in the shower when the tornado hit (an experience described here). We were a little off to the side of the stairs. There was a wooden desk sitting there. It was older, made out of solid wood, and had a little opening for your legs with wood sides all around, totally enclosed but for the front. I remember hunching down and pressing back as hard as I could, trying to get underneath the desk, instinctively feeling that the safest place was to be surrounded by something solid, not liking all the empty cavernous space of the basement and afraid that the ceiling (aka, the rest of the house) would fall down around us. I couldn't get underneath the desk because the leg space was filled with books (that's totally normal, right?) but still pushing back with all my might. I remember what those books felt like against my back. I was terrified.

After what seemed like an eternity, my Dad opened the door to the basement and came down to tell us it was safe to come upstairs. Mom and Josiah went upstairs with Dad. They all stood at the top of the stairs, calling down to try to reassure me it was okay to come back upstairs. Eventually, I had to be carried up the stairs. I still wasn't totally convinced that the tornado wouldn't come back. As far as I was concerned, life had just gone from normal to terrifying in a split second and now, a few minutes later, everyone was trying to convince me that it wouldn't happen again? Ha!

I emerged from the basement to find a world that seemed to me, a 6 year old girl, to be turned totally upside down. Windows were out of their frames and there were broken glass, dirt, and mud everywhere.  Outside, there were trees uprooted, but the glass cake dish on the kitchen counter was untouched. My brother's bedroom was undamaged except for a little spot in the ceiling where some water was leaking (a result of the roof being in less than fantastic shape). Across the hall, my bedroom was a total mess, having been hit the hardest of all the rooms in the house. As with many tornadoes, there were examples of this kind of surreal contrast all throughout the house and the neighborhood, the entire county.

An hour after the tornado ended, I realized I was still holding onto my blueberry poptart. Holding onto it might be a rather mild way of putting it, since my grip was so tight my fingers had made holes clean through and was basically wearing the poptart like some kind of odd ring.

This year, 2014, will be 23 years since the tornado hit our house with us inside. 23 years later, I can still remember clearly what it looked and sounded and felt like when the thunder rolled, the lightning struck, and the wind rattled everything, blowing trees over in half. I didn't get much sleep that weekend, terrified that a tornado would hit again. It was a long time before rain stopped freaking me out. 5 years later, I was still conducting tornado drills and fixing up the closets and bathrooms to be as safe and comfortable as possible if we had to take shelter every time there was a tornado watch or warning (we had moved to Central Texas where the limestone makes basements all but impossible). I think it's safe to say I may have been suffering some PTSD.

Maybe you're thinking "This is a PPD blog. Why am I reading about a tornado from Esther's childhood?". People often ask "What is PPD like?" and it hit me the other day that PPD, at least for me, was exactly like living through that tornado.

One minute, I was celebrating what should have been one of the happiest times of my life, but with a nagging sensation that something was wrong. All of a sudden, there was a storm. A massive and nasty storm, that turns my mental and emotional landscape, my entire life, everything around me, into an unrecognizable and scary scene. Everything becomes total chaos. Terrifying chaos, and I have no clue whether I'll live through it, whether or not my family will come out of it complete. There's noise. Things are light then dark then light, and my whole world is shaking and shaken. I'm utterly terrified, senseless with fear and uncertainty.

But eventually, into the darkness and chaos, light begins to extend. I start to notice that things are quieter, calmer. I'm being told that everything is over, that it's ok to come out of the dark, that life is safe again. It takes some doing but slowly, I emerge from my hiding place. I come out to find that everything in a shambles, that things are broken, but people pick me up and carry me to safety, and then people, loved ones, step in to help clean up the mess that this unasked for storm has made of my life.

When it's all said and done, nothing looked the same again. Nothing has ever been the same, either since the tornado or since PPD. But it is life, and it is put back together, it is mended, and I move on. Sometimes, I still get scared. 23 years after I lived through The Good Friday That Wasn't, I still have trouble sleeping through thunderstorms. I still go into pregnancy a little apprehensive, ever watchful for the symptoms, always on guard for signs that the storm that tore my life apart for those months might be reappearing, but I lived. I SURVIVED. And now, when I look back on both experiences, I see that I have come out of both times stronger and wiser, with more compassion and understanding for others whose lives are rocked by storms, whether physical or otherwise.

For 4 years, I've been trying to figure out why PPD felt so familiar, how to describe PPD, what PPD is like. I finally know.

If you're living through PPD, hang in there. It doesn't last forever (it only feels like it does). Eventually, the storm will let up and you'll be able to come back into the light. I can't guarantee that you'll come out unscathed, you may have some scars after all is said and done, but you will still be alive, you will still be you. The storm will end and you will be ok. There are people here for you to help you, to stand by you, to support you, to offer you a place to rest your head while you fix your roof. You are not alone in this storm or in the aftermath.
*Note* Pictures of the physical aftermath of the tornado that hit our house in 1991 can be seen here

22 October 2013

Who knows?

Yesterday, a dear friend of mine turned me on to a news story that was featured by Fox 5 out of Atlanta. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get the video to play (my browser is being a little cantankerous) but the story I was able to read grabbed my attention.

The story Fox did covering Sarah Schwartz's fight with PPD is a familiar one. Breastfeeding. Anxiety. Not recognizing what was going on.

There was one thing that stood out in particular, though:

"Sarah says the irony in her story -- and the reason she wants to share it -- is that she works in mental health. She's been a social worker for 20 years and is the director of a nonprofit called Mental Health America of Georgia.
"And yet I was so sick that despite my knowledge, I still didn't recognize myself as being sick," Schwartz said.  "I thought, 'Could this be postpartum depression, could this be postpartum anxiety?'  And I thought, ‘No, I'm just a monster.  I am just a horrible person.' I understood for the first time in my life, why people commit suicide.""

People often say things like "How can you not know you have PPD?", "You must know what's going on with yourself", and all sorts of other phrases along the same line of thinking. The answer? I don't know.

What I do know is that for many of us, we don't recognize what's going on with us. You have to understand, PPD is literally messing with your brain. Me? My thought processes were different. My whole outlook on life was abnormal. I didn't recognize what was going on. It took me finding myself standing at the top of the stairs in the middle of the night thinking "I could just throw myself down the stairs", and then walking away only to think "I could take some pills and just go to sleep and not be hurting anymore and everyone would be rid of me, everyone would be better off without me anyways" before I realized "WHOA! Something is WAY off here, I need to talk to someone...".

I was good at hiding it; partly so others wouldn't think I was a horrible mother and partly, I suspect, so I wouldn't have to face the pain quite as much. Head buried in the sand, you know? I don't think most of my friends or family knew what I was going through. And most of them weren't that well informed and educated about PPMD anyways. Heaven knows I wasn't.

This difficulty that many women face in recognizing our own illness, recognizing that we need help, is why it's so important for everyone to be educated and informed about the realities of Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders. It doesn't matter how well educated a woman is about the symptoms and risks of PPMD, if she's "In the fog", she may not be able to recognize her own symptoms. There are quite a few things from my PPMD months that I don't really remember. Small wonder I couldn't recognize the symptoms. If the woman in your life is suffering, she may need your help to even be able to ask for help from trained medical professionals.

Thankfully, Sarah and I (along with many other women) found help through Postpartum Progress. Postpartum Progress is a WONDERFUL resource on PPMD, for everyone, regardless of whether you are a parent, parent-to-be, or someone who is a friend or family member of a new or soon-to-be-new parent. Please, educate yourself about the realities of PPMD. Know the symptoms. Know the difference between the Baby Blues, Postpartum Depression, and Postpartum Psychosis. Know about Postpartum OCD and Postpartum Anxiety. Know about Prenatal Depression. Know it all. Knowledge saves lives. Postpartum Progress has some very handy lists of symptoms in "Plain Mama English". Read the blogs of women who have survived PPMD (a list of blogs I follow is conveniently located in a tab at the top of this page). Check out resources like Postparum Support International, who has a list of support groups by geographical location and specialized support coordinators for dads, military families, Spanish speaking families, and Arabic speaking families. Online support can be found through PSI, #PPDChat on Twitter, and many other venues (including blogs and Facebook groups and pages).

Learn. Know. Educate yourself. Educate others. One of the biggest obstacles to me getting help once I realized what was going on was shame and stigma, fear of what others would think of me because of so many false ideas. In my opinion, the best ways to fight those nasty monsters are through education and public discussion.

One last note: I'd like to give a HUGE thank you to Fox 5 for doing such a wonderful story. Far too often when I hear about PPMD in the news it's in a negative manner that may have bad/false information and just spreads the stigma. This story gets it right. I'm dancing on my chair in gratefulness. Thank you, Fox. And thank you Sarah, for being willing to speak up and speak out. Warrior Moms unite!


19 October 2013

Liebster Award? Yes please!

A few weeks ago, I was nominated for a Liebster Award by Jen at Morning Coffee Confessions. I'm tickled pink and very happy that she thought of me. Thanks Jen!!!

It took me a couple of weeks to get to putting up my post (thank you midterms), but I figure better late than never. :)

In case you're wondering what the Liebster Award is, here's some information that I copied from Jen's blog:

What is the Liebster Award?
The Liebster Award is an award for pint size bloggers (bloggers who have under 200 followers) and is a great way to find new blogs to follow and hopefully make new bloggy friends.

The Rules:
1. Link back to the person who nominated you.
2. Answer the 11 questions asked by your nominator.
3. Choose 11 bloggers. each with fewer than 200 followers, and nominate them for the award.
4. Come up with 11 questions for your nominees to answer.
5. Contact your nominees and notify them of your nomination.

The questions Jen asked me:
1. When you looked at yourself in the mirror this morning, what was the first thing you thought?

"Wow, I can't believe it's our anniversary!"
(It's our fifth)

2. What did the last text message you received on your phone say?
"Sure. :)"

3. What's your life motto?
Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

4. If you could pick anywhere to live the rest of your life, where would it be?
One of the Garden suites on a Norwegian Cruise Lines cruise ship.

5. What's the best route to your heart?
Be kind to my family, especially my children, and talk in an educated manner about how awful Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders are and how much need there is to fight the stigma and misinformation floating around about PPMD.

6. What do your friends and/or family think about your blog?
They think it's great. My family and friends have been very supportive of my blog.

7. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
What didn't I want to be? It changed hourly. I definitely wanted to be a mom though.

8. Did you have any resolutions this year? What were they?
No. I don't make resolutions anymore. I set goals and give myself permission to not beat myself up if they don't get achieved.

9. Do you have a day job? If so, what do you do?
I'm a full-time college student and a wife and mom.

10. Something that you learned recently?
When you're developing black and white photos in a darkroom, you can't pour Fixer down the drain. It's toxic after it's been used because it contains silver particles.

11. Coffee or tea?
Tricky question. As a Mormon who's observing Word of Wisdom, I should say herbal tea since WoW's guidance is to not drink tea or coffee unless the tea is herbal tea. However, I love me some Pumpkin Spice Latte or Frappucino. Or rather, I did. No, I still love it, I just don't indulge. There we go.

You're welcome.

My nominees:
1. Ashley at Hull: Family of Three.
2. AddyB at Butterfly Confessions.
4. Anna at Anna and Aaron.
5. StoryGirl at Sometimes It's Hard.
6. Cori at In Pink Ink.
7. Lauren at My Postpartum Voice.
8. Stephanie at The Mormon Child Bride.
10. Julia at The Sugary Shrink.
11. Janae at Claire and Janae.

The Questions:
1. What is your best quality?
2. What is your blog about?
3. What is one cause, issue, charity, etc. that you wish more people knew about?
4. What kind of chocolate do you prefer?
5. What is one piece of advice you wish you could go back in time and give your teenage self?
6. Who is your hero?
7. What is your favorite tv show?
8. How many pillows do you sleep with?
9. If you could be any superhero or villain, who would it be?
10. What's your favorite holiday?
11. What's one thing you wish you could tell everyone in the world?

Have fun, bloggers! Please don't feel any pressure to answer this, or to answer it within any particular time frame. But, if/when you do answer, if you let me know, I'll add the link to your response post to this post so other people can read what you have to say. :)


11 September 2013

Shout out to a hero, Cristi Comes

I know today is 9/11 and it's expected to talk about the events of that awful day and the people who were lost in those tragic events. But you know what? I want to take today to focus on something positive, talk about someone who is doing great things to help other people.

Picture from Motherhood Unadorned.
One of the lovely things about the internet is that it helps you meet people you might not meet otherwise. Take, for example, Cristi Comes of Motherhood Unadorned. I know Cristi (online) because of both of our involvement in the online PPD community. She's one of my Warrior Mom idols, I really look up to her. She's talented and her passion for advocacy, awareness, education, and support in the PPD community are beyond description. Straight up, she rocks.

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week and Cristi has been hard at work. She's done some fantastic blog posts including a guest post from Leila (who blogs at Life As Leels) and her own blog post about ways we can fight suicide. She's been posting up a storm of links and images, such as the one to the left. She's organized an online Stella and Dot Trunk Show to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide PreventionShe's been tweeting links and... well... tweets... that are relevant, helpful, etc.

Did I mention that Cristi is fantastic and I absolutely adore her?

Cristi is one of those people who truly embodies what it means to care about other people and work to make the world a better place, to fight against the stigma and myths that surround mental illness, suicide, Postpartum Depression, and related topics. She is a shining beacon of light and hope to people who feel worn out by life, who feel like they're alone, who feel like there is no hope.

There are a lot of people out there who don't get it. WAY too many who don't get it, people who actively fight against the idea that mental illness and suicide are serious, people who think that stigma is a joke and that it's okay to mock and deride those who speak up, people who think that suicide is a joking matter (it's not a joke and it's not a game). In fact, I've got another post cooking about an instance of that exact thing happening, an instance in which Cristi speaks up and people are just inane jerks to her, but I wanted to talk about the good first, because good people like Cristi deserve the spotlight more than the jerks of the world.

Thank you, Cristi, for everything that you do. You may never know how much good you accomplish and how much you and your efforts mean to other people, but your contributions can't be measured by any human markers. Keep up the good work, you inspiring person you.

Be sure to check out Cristi's blog, twitter, and the Stella and Dot show through the links posted throughout the blog.

10 September 2013

Unexpected emotions

Recently, I posted about my new journey to be a Gestational Surrogate. I will not be using TriCare; instead, I'll be using private insurance, which I applied for after I matched with my Intended Parents. Recently, I got an email from the insurance agent stating that my application had been passed on to the underwriters for further consideration and that they would be in touch with me. Today, I finally got a call from them and, just as I had suspected, they needed to ask me some more questions about my medical history.

I had expected that they would want to ask me about my thyroid and the PPD I had after Lizzie was born. What I didn't expect was to feel ashamed talking to them about the PPD. I pretty quickly realized that I was giving way more information than they needed and that I felt like I was some sort of freak of nature for what I went through.

It was a little upsetting to realize that I still harbor feelings of shame about my PPD. I talk about my experiences all the time. I'm very open about what I went through. I blog. I tweet. I talk about it on Facebook. I talk about it in person. I try to be an open book about my experiences, partly so that people know they have someone to talk to instead of feeling all alone like I did. A big part of it, though, is that I talk about it so others know that it isn't anything to be ashamed of. And yet, I still sometimes get knocked for a loop by that lingering monster of false guilt. Ugh.

If you're interested in following my journey through surrogacy, head on over to The Womb Fairy, my new blog devoted to the path towards being a very personal and very extended babysitter.