Mental illness affects 1 in 4 American adults.
Postpartum depression affects 1 in 7 mothers.
Breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women.
Gluten intolerance affects potentially 1 in 20 Americans.
One walks through the grocery store and there are signs everywhere highlighting gluten free items. Restaurants are happy to accommodate the needs of affected individuals. A friend comes for dinner and you make sure you protect them, not question what they could do to get over their intolerance.
Pink…everywhere. We rally around the women who face the challenges of a cancer diagnosis. We set up meal trains to make sure she and her family are fed. Have you ever heard someone ask what she did to get cancer? Doubts that she actually has the disease and isn’t just seeking attention? Everybody knows nobody would choose that suffering.
I never thought I would be talking about this. I never thought I would be 1 in 7, but I am. I made a desperate journey out of postpartum depression and came out wondering why I didn’t know a single woman in real life that had been on a similar journey. I don’t want another woman in my life to feel alone.
The moment that changed my path from being there for other women to increasing awareness was innocent enough. A well meaning co-worker heard me talking about my struggle with postpartum depression and he said, “I think you should get a second opinion. How could you possibly be depressed? You are one of the happiest people I know.”
I was one of the happiest people he knew before postpartum depression ravaged both my body and mind. Today, I am again one of the happiest people he knows. But the meantime, I was a shell of a human that lived in fear of ever being able to return to the woman I was. I put on a good face… smiled a lot to avoid questions like “Are you okay?” Questions that could pulverize the house of cards of my already shattered life.
Depression’s face isn’t always anti-social, sadness-laden, self-harming, and dressed in black. Depression’s face can be 35 year-old mother of two, working in her dream job, married to the love of her life, and surrounded by friends and family. What one doesn’t see on depression’s face is the hopelessness, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, lost sense of self, and fatigue.
His incredulity crushed me. After stepping away from the conversation, I realized he wasn’t questioning my truthfulness, he only knew one face of depression. Therein was the opportunity. I could be another face of depression for those around me. I could build awareness that depression can strike anybody, even those you would least expect.
Why does my co-worker have such a narrow vision of what depression looks like? Why didn’t I know anybody in real life who suffered from postpartum depression? Why? Why? Why? Because nobody is talking about it. Because mental illness carries a stigma that other diseases don’t.
Maybe I was never really listening to the moms around me to hear them say, “I’m having a rough go of it,” or “This isn’t how I thought it would be.” When I started sharing my own story, I found many friends who had in fact been down the same path. I quickly learned I wasn’t alone.
Sharing your story isn’t easy. Some people think you need to get over it and do what generations of moms have done before you. (Listen up, I’ve met a lot of moms from a generation before me, they didn’t have modern medicine like we do today, and they tell stories of moving in with their mothers or mother-in-laws because they couldn’t do it alone.) Others might just think you are weak. Maybe you will find someone more sympathetic who thinks medication will make you better. I had a hard time while I was recovering telling anybody I was suffering from postpartum depression, because of these people. Today, I see them as an opportunity.
It’s mental illness awareness week. Even better than being aware, spread the word. The more we talk about it, the less stigma it will have. I’m a Warrior Mom and a proud survivor of mental illness.