Postpartum Depression: Why Mental Health Surveys Suck

I had a baby recently. It’s been a while since I popped one out, so all the hospital stuff was new to me and my postpartum short-term memory.

One BIG thing I noticed was the addition of questions regarding mental health. I not only filled out two questionnaires, I also verbally answered a survey the nurse gave. My obstetrician went over concerns at discharge. Then, two weeks later, the pediatrician’s office (read: at the appointment for the baby) included a typed survey in their New Patient paperwork.

Wonderful, I thought. But, also, Not really helpful.

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Why?

For anyone who’s fighting the Mental Illness Fight, you know that a simple, typed questionnaire is not sufficient. Theirs included questions like:

How often do you feel hopeless?

Have you cried uncontrollably in the last week?

Have you ever had thoughts of hurting yourself?

Great questions, yes? They’re almost as good as the responses you can choose from: Not very often, Often, Sometimes, No more than usual.

That final phrase is the one I chose most, and one that keeps flitting through my mind: No more than usual.

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No, nurses-doctor-pediatrician, I am not experiencing Postpartum Depression. It’s regular, run-of-the-mill Depression for me. Just hand me the baby, and we’ll (hopefully) make it through. Don’t worry -it’s no more than usual…

What’s the solution, then? Should the clinics not bother? Pretend these things don’t exist?

No, of course not.

When I first went to my obstetrician’s office, I saw a few papers taped to the back of the bathroom door. One encouraged women who felt they were in an abusive relationship to get help, and had tear-off phone numbers. Another paper discussed which contraceptives were most effective. The final flier caught my eye first: a bright, informative piece explaining that Postpartum Depression included things like anxiety or OCD or physical ailments as well, and to talk to your doctor if they cropped up.

At the time I saw that paper, I felt touched. I felt like dropping my urine protein test right away and giving the whole office staff a hug for including that information.

Since birthing and experiencing ‘usual’ symptoms, however, I’ve felt each nurse and doctor needs a short lecture. I’d begin with, “Make eye contact with your patient and ask them ‘yes-or-no’ questions.” Like:

Did you feel hopeless in the last week?

Did you cry?

Did you feel like hurting yourself?

Instead of Often, Usual, Never, etc., try a scale from 0-10. Or, try sitting and LISTENING sincerely to the woman’s responses.

Another helpful tip would be to explain what might happen if the answers are alarming. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t need the staff committing me to a psych ward because they don’t understand. I mean, maybe I just need a hug and a nap.

And medication.

The point is that mental health surveys are a good step in the right direction. With a little tweaking and lot more human interaction, they could even be helpful.

Let’s try it, and help those of us trying to fight mental illness. We might just ‘usual’ly beat it.

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©2019 Chelsea Owens

Photo Credit:
Liv Bruce
Zach Lucero
Jenna Norman
Kelly Sikkema

Celebrities with Mental Health Issues: Kid Cudi

Kid Cudi began rapping at the end of high school, about six years after his father passed away from cancer. He’s since pursued a highly lucrative life as a professional rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, and even actor.

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The man who began life as Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi has really made a name for himself. What many fans respect him for, however, is not his fame or even his sculpted profile -well, maybe the profile. Many, instead, admire how real he is about life and its challenges.

Back in October of 2016, Cudi publicly told his Facebook followers that he would be checking himself “into rehab for depression and suicidal urges.”

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-Kid Cudi’s Facebook feed

As of this posting, the message has garnered 65,000 comments and 133,000 shares. Comments range from supportive “You’re inspiring” messages to, most importantly, others coming forward in vulnerability to share their struggles and stories as well.

Some people who fight mental health issues worry about opening up. Cudi did, taking a risk to his career and future with his honesty. Was it worth it? Did he lose everything by doing so?

In an interview with Red Table Talk two years later, Cudi reflects:

“I was really worried, and I kinda like had that moment where I was just like, ‘Do I really wanna get back on drugs and do cocaine again?

“Do I really wanna go back on this journey at 32?’ I woke up one morning, and I was just thinking like, ‘Man, this isn’t healthy. And I don’t know what else to do but get some help and find some place I can go.’ And I found a place.”

Red Table Talk

He found a place, a better place. And these days, he’s back to doing what he loves and excels at. As to his mental health?

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-Kid Cudi’s Twitter Feed

Kid Cudi’s fame and fortune didn’t exempt him from serious mental health issues; they did, however, give him a reason to get help. Also, they gave him the chance to be an example to others.

 

Photo Credit:
By brinsknaps – KiD CuDi, CC BY-SA 2.0

©2019 Chelsea Owens

How to Break the Cycle of Abuse Within Your Own Mind

I am really good at not being good to myself.

“Most of your class is smarter than you.” “No one wants to be your friend.” “Of course you didn’t win.”

Throughout my childhood, I taught myself to have no self pride. At all. Despite being decently intelligent and skilled; I could never accept a compliment. If I didn’t win the very best at a contest, the voices inside told me why. If I happened to do well; they reminded me of how many other people were better, or of how there weren’t many competitors.

I’d love to say things have gotten better, but they haven’t.

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“Look, see: that person says she likes that person, but doesn’t even look at you when you’re walking by.” “There you go, dummy; forgetting everything again.” “Well, who would want to be your friend?”

I could blame the internet, exposing me and millions of others TO millions of others. But if I’m being honest, my negative self would be able to beat me up even without bringing the rest of the world into the comparisons.

When I’ve addressed this problem with self-meditation, self-medication (usually chocolate), and the occasional session with a therapist; I …can’t actually address it. I’m so good at not being good to me that I jump right in to sabotage any sort of progress.

Me: “Well, when someone compliments me, I feel like they probably don’t know the whole picture.”

Also Me: Justifying “I’m not that good at cooking/writing/being a friend/etc. That person is just really nice. She tells the off-key 8-year-olds at church that they sang beautifully.”

I’m so good at not being good that I claim my conclusions are LOGICAL. I bring outside evidence to back the negativity up, disguise rudeness as truth, and name-calling as accurate titles.

And I don’t see this as wrong.

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If I had a friend (See? If I had a friend? -so mean!) -anyway- If I had a friend whose boyfriend were saying that crap to her, I’d immediately tell her it was abusive behavior. If someone at school were telling these things to my son, I’d advise him to stand up for himself and even talk to his teacher about it. If I were reading a book or watching a movie and heard the things that play in my head all day; I would recognize the character as a petty, selfish bully.

Living with me all day every day, however, I do not. As you may have guessed, I tell myself that negativity is exactly what I deserve.

…Which makes breaking out of the cycle of abuse that much more difficult. And yes, it is a cycle of abuse.

As such, the actually LOGICAL steps to getting out would be to follow professional advice for leaving an abuser. The internet may be providing fodder for my inaccurate comparisons, but it also has a lot of information to help save me from them. In fact, there is even a wikiHow on breaking an abusive cycle.

Since we’re dealing with an internal abuser, I’ve taken their list and modified it:

  1. Leave.
    I can’t exactly leave my own head, but see that my substance abuse and attempts to disassociate are a lot like telling an abusive spouse I’m leaving, but not actually packing bags and arranging for another place to live.
    I feel that I don’t know where to go or what to pack yet, but maybe I can start asking around and collecting a few moving boxes.
  2. Don’t dismiss, justify, or accept the abuse.
    Frankly, I need to stop agreeing with the Meany-Head in my head. I can probably, sort-of, start talking back to it like a stubborn 3-year-old. According to professionals, that’s healthier than allowing it.
  3. Look out for the honeymoon phase.
    I didn’t think self-abuse had this, but it does. I have days or even weeks of letting up on myself. I smile without reminding myself that poor children in Africa have little to smile about. I accept a compliment and don’t downplay it.
  4. Don’t fall for that break in abuse!!
    I can’t let my guard down and assume everything’s better if there is little or no meanness.
    When I went on a successful diet one time, I mentally associated sugars and refined flour with fat gain. Those two became repulsive to me and I had no appetite to eat them.
    Similarly, I’ve got to put a no-acceptance-at-all mental block on the negative talk. Like Susan said in her article, I’ve got to respond right away with positivity.
  5. Unearth your superpower.
    The wikiHow articles says, “One reason individuals stay in abusive relationships is because they feel powerless and unable to act.” Boy, is that ever true. I feel overwhelmed at the idea of finding strength within myself.
    BUT, there are times that I am motivated to act -no matter how depressed or beaten-down I feel. Those times include: if someone I love is in danger, if injustice is raising its ugly head, and when things pile up so much that I simply cannot tolerate any more.
    If I can find strength even in the darkest despair, I can fight this abuse.
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  6. Go get help.
    I think this is my favorite of the steps, because I often suffer from Analysis Paralysis. I don’t know the ‘right’ direction to go, so stand and stare at the different options until I get frustrated and give up.
    With a counselor, therapist, psychologist, trained friend, or even a small reminder to literally choose to be positive; I can get GPS instructions for which way to start walking.

So, what am I waiting for? Honestly, I’m waiting for it to be easier. I’m waiting for the ‘right’ motivation. I’m probably waiting for the chocolate to kick in.

But I have a list. I have a goal. I want to Keep Fighting instead of keep bending over backwards and feeling worthless.

So, let’s do this thing. Who’s with me?

Photo Credit:
Andrei Lazarev
Siavash Ghanbari
Philipp Wüthrich
Gabriela Braga

©2019 Chelsea Owens

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The Pain of Self-Harm

I was inspired by the ruler of this blog’s recent post about his self-harm story so I wanted to chime in with mine.

*I don’t want anybody to read this then get the urge to self-harm. If you’re not mentally up to it at the moment, don’t push yourself. Do whatever is the safest thing for you.*

Self-harm became a comfort for me.

Reading that you may wonder how hurting myself can ever be comfortable. But let me explain.

There’s some science somewhere that says cutting releases endorphins in your brain that make you feel good even just got a little bit. I used to hurt myself over and over and over again until I felt that my internal pain was manageable again.

I would hurt myself when I felt like total shit. When I felt that the only thing to make me feel better was to hurt myself. But once the endorphins were done swimming around, the pain begins.

At my lowest point I didn’t care that I was hurting myself on a daily basis. I didn’t feel guilty and the pain that it caused gave me something to feel instead of being numb.

At other times in my life I would feel immediately guilty. I would beat myself up about it, “Megan you shouldn’t have done this! What were you thinking doing this again?”

Hiding the fresh cuts was always the part that I hated most. It felt like another way that I had to cover up my pain instead of talking about it with someone.

As of today I haven’t self-harmed in over a year! This is a huge accomplishment for me because I don’t think I’ve ever gone this long since I began hurting myself when I was 18 (I’m now 25, almost 26). Writing that makes me feel strong!

I know that I will always struggle with the urge to self-harm. Using positive coping skills plus the power of distracting myself have been my keys to success.

The scars that I have all over my body are a reminder of how far I have come in my mental health journey. If you have scars too, let them remind you of how strong you are and that you have made it through many difficult times.

Stay strong everyone! — Megan x

Hello Depression, My Old Friend

I’ve come to feel it once again.

I’ve been here before, then again later, and again after that.

I am speaking, as the title indicated, of Depression. Do you know it? Do you know its seeping, creeping darkling tendrils? Its suffocating mass? Its overwhelming prevalence in your life?

The funny thing is that I want to feel it. I draw Depression over myself like a comforting blanket, speak through its muffling effects, and even run my thoughts through its percolating filter.

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I’m afraid. And as much as I fear the mental state I can get to with Depression, I fear the unknowns of real life much more -especially the variables known as people. Actually, that’s not fair. A lot of my negative thoughts result from a constant need to numb any feeling at all.

When my mind is awake and aware, the reality of my pointless life rises up in walls around me. It doesn’t stop there. Depression curdles my thoughts, reminding me of how much I have in life and how I should feel bad for feeling bad. I should also stop thinking selfishly at all. Sure; I don’t ever address my own happiness, but I’m more functional that way.

When around people, every little gesture or tone or blink sends my anxiety off the charts. I talk too much, or too little. I don’t smile enough. Maybe I smiled too much? I know they hated me because they did that little side-smile and nervous laugh. Why oh why did I talk about social injustice when they just wanted to talk about Joanna Gaines?

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Reeling at the stimuli I quickly opt for substance abuse, staying up late, stopping my mind, and squashing my innermost desires.

I forget all the good advice and hide beneath my cloud of encroaching gloom known as Depression.

And only when I am at the bottom of the pit do I notice things might not be ideal. When my mind shouts, “NO YOU’RE NOT” over the top of a compliment. When I yearn to not exist. When, in short, the thoughts altered by Depression go beyond what I think is ‘real’ and definitely enter ‘lying.’

That’s when I begin to fidget a bit. Perhaps, I consider, this Depression thing isn’t such a great comforter after all.

And yet, I don’t fully shake it. Instead, I feel I go round and round the cycle again.

I told my counselor once that I don’t know why I keep at it. I said that maybe I was waiting for ‘rock bottom;’ for a major event to shake me out of this. “You don’t want rock bottom,” she reminded me. She’s right, of course. I don’t.

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I feel I need to take my own advice and stop pretending I don’t need to. I need to keep at it and not assume all’s well enough to get lazy. I need to actually do what I just said.

What do you do to push away the blues, and remember that they need to stay away? How do you stick with it?

Photo Credit:
Megan te Boekhorst
Alexandra Gorn
rawpixel
José Ignacio García Zajaczkowski

I’m not “too sensitive.” I’m mentally ill.

It hurts when people erase us – our struggles, our scars, our victories, our invisible battles, a part of our lives that shapes us and our paths in ways others will never comprehend.

It hurts when people erase our mental illnesses.

gabriel-762937-unsplashIt’s like being told that everything must be your fault, a result of your flaws and weaknesses and choices; that it’s inconceivable that there is an invisible destiny carved into our bones by genetics and external factors of trauma or tragedy, leaving us learning every day the forever-evolving face of our mental illness and how best to get through the new day.

How many of us have at some point been told that we can be a little “too sensitive,” “too emotional,” or “too involved” ? How many of us have felt that we’re being told that our pain, our exhaustion, our hopelessness, our control over our minds slipping through our finger tips, are our fault? Our choice, even?

For me, I’ve heard it countless times.

“You need to toughen up.” “You’re too soft for this world.” “You can’t be so sensitive and expect to be treated right.” “You shouldn’t let things affect you this much.”

And in my head, with internal hot tears of anger and hurt at the erasure of my pain, of the war I have battled without complaint or surrender for as long as I can remember, all I can think when I hear that is, “thank you! So! Much! I am cured, of my depression, of my anxiety, and finally, presented with the easy to make and simple choice of “tough” or “sensitive,” I can continue my life with contentment and joy, never again to be pestered by the whisperings of my own mind! Bless you, kind sir!”

miguel-bruna-503098-unsplashI’m a little angry about it, I guess. And I should be. Because, when I’m at rock bottom, at my wits end, my life falling apart, my mind urging me to figuratively hit “quit without saving” on my existence, when I’m crying in the shower and in the elevator and in the moments no one is watching, when my hands are shaking as I desperately count the pills from my doctor and the consequences of absence from work, from relationships, from the world, are knocking on my door demanding that I attend to responsibilities even though I can barely attend to myself –

You telling me I need to “toughen up” and not be “so sensitive,” is erasing my mental illness, and you’re erasing the victories I win every single day with them, and you’re erasing the fact that mental illness is ugly, real, and that I am so so much tougher than you could ever imagine, because I face their hideous faces every morning.

It’s not that we’re “too” anything. It’s called mental illness.

Mine are called Depression and Anxiety. Whatever yours are called, kudos to you for fighting quietly or loudly or neatly or messily. However you win your battles, even on the days you lose, you’re not too sensitive or emotional or self involved or at fault. None of it is your fault. Call it what it is, and don’t let people who don’t understand convince you to agree with the shady voice in your head that tries to convince you it’s all on you, because it’s not, and I hope this is your daily reminder of that.

–  Steph

When Things Are Good

I have lived with a mental illness for most of my life so it’s kind of weird when things are going really well.

Maybe I’m the only one but when you’re used to living everyday feeling depressed and anxious, it is odd to not feel that way. I am so used to having my mental illness control my life that when I get to do what I want, I’m lost.

I’m not complaining at all that my mental health is in good. To be honest it feels great to not lay in bed for hours while negative thoughts spin around my exhausted brain. I feel truly happy with my life which is something I couldn’t say two months ago.

I should be glad that I’ve made it to this point after struggling for so long. I feel like myself, the most myself I have felt in a while, but I feel like something is missing. My depression is missing, it’s on vacation or something. My anxiety is still here but it does not have as much power controlling me without depression to assist.

Feeling depressed and anxious almost every day for months at a time is my norm. I hate to say it but swimming in my mental illness is my comfort zone because that’s what I am used to feeling. Now that I’m in a period where I’m doing really well, I feel off.

Instead of sitting around waiting for another episode to occur, I’m going to do the things that I struggle to do when I’m depressed. I’m planning to exercise regularly, write more often, clean and spend time with other humans (ok, that one’s a maybe).

If I only get the month of October to feel happy then I better utilize the time I have been given before it all goes away.

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