World Mental Health Day Blog Party: Coming Out of the Closet About Depression and Postpartum Depression

Hey there! Honored to be part of PsychCentral’s World Mental Health Day Blog Party!  Today, as an LPC, I could write another professional blog about treatment options or family dynamics; like outline a specific self-care relaxation, expressive or cognitive re-framing exercise.

 

But, online, I’ve been skirting around telling my own personal story.

Today I made a careful personal decision to out myself.

I am a depression and postpartum depression survivor.

First, I want to make it clear that just because I am telling my personal story which includes info about how I parent, I am NOT trying to make anyone else feel guilty NOR am I trying to tell anyone to parent the way I parent. Got that?

Second, as a licensed professional, I’ve gotten flack around the web for outing myself. You know, as we say in the therapy biz, don’t should on me. Because I’m in excellent company.

Two of my heroes are the distinguished Kay Redfield Jamison, M.D., and Peter C. Whybrow, M.D. They are both high-functioning mental health professionals and are brave enough to out themselves and dispel the myths and the stigma about mental illness.
Dr. Jamison is a full professor at Johns Hopkins and co-director of their prestigious Mood Disorders Clinic. She is the author of several memoirs about her personal struggle with bipolar disorder. She is a living legend of survival. I recently had the honor of watching Dr. Jeanne Driscoll speak and she said Dr. Jamison led the way in helping to bring mental illness out of the closet and into the public eye.

Dr. Whybrow is Director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California in Los Angeles. He is also the Judson Braun Distinguished Professor and Executive Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine and CEO of the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA. He has written about his personal struggle with a mood disorder as well.

Today, I am emotionally balanced. I took time to know myself and learn how to care for myself. It was a long journey of self-love and self-care. I have not had a depressive episode in 15 years.

I thought I’d include a recent picture of me and my family.

But it wasn’t always like this. I had dark days.

Ok – pieces of my story.

Giving birth and becoming a parent was/is the most powerful and primal experience of my life. After I gave birth, I experienced extreme joy and extreme love. I also experienced the most profound, debilitating postpartum depression. And I let it go untreated.

I share my story in the hope you don’t let your depression go untreated.

Moms, believe in yourselves! Believe in your choices! They are ok. You are ok.

Back then, I did see a therapist, who very kindly suggested I go to a female psychiatrist (over & over again!) who could discuss medication and breastfeeding options with me.

But, I refused to go see this psychiatrist, as I was afraid of the effects on my baby. I cherished the nursing relationship with him. The nursing times were the best times of the day. It was soothing to relax, sit down, and just feel the love between us! And I did not want to expose him to any form of medication through my breast-milk, especially not daily antidepressants!

Back then, 17 years ago, there wasn’t alot of research literature available regarding the risks and safety of different psychotropic medications for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Currently, you can easily access accurate, succinct, and professional consumer information about pregnancy, breastfeeding and psychotropic medications. One valid & reliable website is the website of the Organization of Teratogen Information Specialists. You can take a look at this information and have an informed discussion with your doctor. Another good website is Kathleen Kendall-Tackett’s Uppity Science Chick. And Professor Tom Hale’s Medications and Mother’s Milk is now available in an APP on his Infant Risk website.

So, you can do some research yourself now based on research evidence and experience a “rush of informed.”  There are risks to any choice; risks to treating mental illness with medications while pregnant & nursing and risks to leaving depression untreated. But now there is a lot of data out there to look at, and you can make an informed decision along with your doctor.

I can tell you first hand that untreated depression physically and mentally hurts.

Hindsight is 20/20 and I now know I had a lot of known risk factors for postpartum depression. I had a previous depressive episode as a teenager, which coincided with the beginning of menstruation. I just left my job to be a stay-at-home mom, creating a huge identity shift, and we moved 50 miles away to live in a more rural part of New Jersey. So, I was set-up by my life circumstances.

If I had known I was set-up, I could’ve mitigated the effects of my life circumstances. There are proactive, extreme self-care steps I could’ve taken. I know that now.

My first year as a mother was very very painful. I felt as if I was in a black hole, that I couldn’t think or will myself out of. I was ashamed of how I felt. I had strong, irrational feelings of shame stopping me from telling people about myself. My feelings of self-worth were in the gutter. I was tearful and tired. And we did live in the middle of a beautiful wooded area. I was surrounded by beauty and I drank in the serenity of nature but also felt isolated. I wouldn’t say that every day was terrible, but, it was very very difficult. I was very depressed and cried a lot. My husband helped as much as he could, but I didn’t tell him how bad I really felt. He was a great support to me, and I am grateful for that.

Becoming a parent caused a seismic shift in my core self-identity and feelings of self-worth. I did not truly understand what type of pressure it would put on my husband as he turned into the sole breadwinner. I also didn’t fully grasp how vulnerable a woman becomes after having a baby. From personal experience, I finally understood the true personal price (and joys) of motherhood, how small the safety net is in America, and how devalued is the work of mothering and parenting.

And having our son changed our marital relationship forever. The massive love we experienced for our baby was a source of joy. On one hand, we delighted in being a family, in becoming three!

On the other hand, the sleepless nights, the change in finances, our combined identity changes, the massive hormonal fluctuations from pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, plus a basic lack of knowledge about the true nature of babies were all factors in the stress we experienced as we became parents.

Our marriage relationship broadened as we made room for our son, but we also suffered stress as our “we-ness” expanded to “three-ness.” While we were in the thick of having a newborn, there was no time to reflect on how we felt about being parents.

Now we can discuss the differences with the insight of maturity and experience, but then, I was just keeping my head above water, keeping the house clean (ha!), trying to use the La Leche League cookbook for crock-pot recipes for fussy day dinner options (ha!), and sleeping when my baby slept.

Many well-meaning people gave me unsolicited advice, which I suppose they were trying to help. But, I felt confused and stressed as the conflicting advice mounted.

One day, being very lonely in a snow-covered house, I went out to do some mall-walking with my son in a stroller. At one store, the salespeople asked me how old he was. I said eight weeks. They both said, I wouldn’t take such a young baby out, I’d be afraid! I felt criticized and so lonely, and walked away, thinking, where are we to go, my son and me? We are not even welcome in the mall? I cried as I walked along.

Of course I was hyper-sensitive in my depressed state, and took the words of some salespeople in the mall way too seriously! Nutty, huh?

I mean, really, who cares what they think? Wish I had some better cognitive reframing skills back then!

Moms, believe in yourself! Believe in your choices, they are ok. You are ok.

As I fought my way through a deep, core identity change, a shift in social perspective, and postpartum depression, I began to try to make sense of my life.

I read voraciously about mindbody therapies, became certified in shiatsu, acupressure and Reiki. Learning about the mindbody connection was the beginning of my healing journey. I learned about extreme self-care and mind and body awareness & relaxation practices. I studied hypnosis and began teaching childbirth classes, providing as much information and support about the emotions of pregnancy and birth and about the transition to parenthood as best I could to pregnant parents. Eventually, I went to graduate school, with the goal of specializing in the emotions of pregnancy and birth, to create a safe place where women and families could come for support.

So, I would say that with my identity as a mom came my life purpose.

To help people sort through those conflicting, denigrating messages about birth, women, mothering and parenting in our culture. Messages like, be a professional woman, don’t be a professional woman…..be a mother, oh, well, you’re not really doing it right…..oh, you’re only a mother…etc. Sigh.

To help people sort through that noise, give them some information and help them be okay with themselves. Simple, huh?
Did you have a life-changing experience that moved you on a different path?

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47 Responses to “World Mental Health Day Blog Party: Coming Out of the Closet About Depression and Postpartum Depression”

  • […] Coming Out of the Closet About Depression and Postpartum Depression – Kathy Morelli, LPC […]

  • Thank you Kathy for a wonderful and brave post. Is is so sad that depression is viewed as a weakness that we just have to snap out off. I know what I am talking about being a mental health professional that have visited “depression land”.

    • BirthTouch:

      Hi Irene!
      Thanks so much for your comment and your persona share! I am glad to know that I am in good company. Actually, as I said, we are in GREAT company! There are many books out there written by high-functioning mental health and other professionals who have experienced mental illness in their lifetime and now manage it or are free of it through employing various healing methods.
      Thanks for your supportive comments!
      take care, Kathy

  • I loved this. A life changing experience. I had two in my life- the first , being diagnosed as “bipolar” which was not handled well by the doctors and the therapists at the time. Of course this went on to my family who made it worse. Then the other life changing experience was last November when I was rushed to the hospital, dying from kidney failure. Knowing that if I got to the hospital two hours later I would have died, made me re evaluate my life, change the things I know I could change, accept the things I really couldn’t and try to live life every day like it was my last. I still have not accomplished a lot of things I want in life, like having a baby, but I am trying to deal with that, and know when one door closes, another one opens.

    Following you now on FB.Thank you for your compassion to write about a very difficult topic, and do it well.

    • BirthTouch:

      Hi Susan!
      Thanks for the comment! So happy to meet you!
      I loved your blog post and I really appreciate that you mentioned your friend who would tell people that he was bipolar! WOW! But m/b we dont have to be so forward? I mean, ppl who have cancer dont usually lead with that info! But it still is inspiring to hear abt ppl who are not ashamed or who are working thru their shame by being open abt their struggle! I’m going to find you FB & Networked Blogs!
      take care, Kathy

  • Ivy:

    Hi Kathy, Thank you for sharing your PPD experience! That took a lot of courage! I think it’s so wonderful that you have dedicated your career to helping other mothers and their families. That takes such dedication and sincere desire to prevent as many other moms from suffering the way you (and I) had both suffered. Looking forward to reading your new e-book! See you soon! – Ivy

    • BirthTouch:

      Dear Ivy – Thanks for stopping by! I truly appreciate your comments! I loved reading about your life and the things that shaped you and your commitment to helping others. Bullying is such a sad and pervasive act …I have lots of trouble understanding how parents are unaware of what is going on…that their children are bullying others. I am not condemning parents ot make them feel guilty or to bear all the “blame”, but way too many people put their hands in their pockets when it comes to parenting. Parenting is a verb. I am so happy you are coming out with your story! I can’t wait to read it! take care, Kathy

  • Hi Kathy! I’m so glad you responded to my comment on Annie’s blog and pointed me towards this blog party linkup. It’s good to ‘meet’ you, and I appreciate your personal story so much! Becoming a parent is a huge shift, and for those of us who develop PP mood issues, or who have pre existing mental illnesses, we can very rapidly get off track into this weird foggy angry mire that we never imagined we could ever wind up in. Or at least I did. My blog party contribution outlines my third postpartum encounter with anxiety, and the one where I finally got diagnosis and effective treatment, but my full story is long and includes many attempts to access help, none of which got me a diagnosis or effective treatment.
    Thanks to professionals like you, and individuals like all of us who blogged for this event, awareness is increasing, and someday women won’t have to flounder for so long while they try to get help!
    You’re brave, and I’m grateful you ‘outed’ yourself.
    =)

    • BirthTouch:

      Hi Melissa – WOW! So glad you stopped on by and left a comment! I am glad that John at PsychCentral is holding this blog party!
      Your story moves me, and it is so sad when it takes so long to get a correct diganosis. Also, the meds are tricky and even with a really good psychiatrist, it often takes time…also, the meds are what they are…they have side-effects and some people don’t get relief from them..
      My story is tied to all of the mindbody methods I use for healing and a change of lifestyle. And also, it is a very long story, so as you said about your story, it is just a subset of the whole thing!
      take care, Kathy

  • Dan:

    What a brave and powerful post, Kathy! Thank you for sharing your story – it is such an important one for more people to know about!

    • BirthTouch:

      Hi Dan!
      Thanks so much for your supportive comment! I was afraid to “out” myself ! But as out friend, Susan G says, we are not “healthcare robots!”
      Good luck with your new book! thanks! Kathy

  • Kathy, thank you for sharing such a brave and personal post. I think it is important that we, as mental health care professionals, feel empowered to share our stories — we are human not health care robots! It’s important that women know they are not alone, broken or bad for post-partum depression. I was there, too, and it’s a hard,dark place to be when everyone is telling you it should be the happiest time of your life….It can and does get better with help and support! Thanks for spreading that word so honestly and with passion!

    • BirthTouch:

      HI Susan!
      Thanks so much for your supportive comments! I was truly afraid to “out” myself! Then I was hinting at it so much online, I decided to just get on with it! I also had gotten negative feedback from some mental health pros….but I believe as you, that we are NOT “health care robots!”
      And I am in good company as I say on the blog! Thanks so much! I don’t think I would have done that without your support! Take care, Kathy

  • Wow. And ditto what Susan Giurleo said.

    Fifteen years without a depressive episode–now that’s impressive:). I have a friend who had extreme mood swings around her menstruation, and anti-depressants really helped. Interestingly enough, when she was pregnant, her moods were pretty stable.

    I’ve never been depressed, thankfully. Now anxiety, that’s another story;).

    It would be interesting to poll mental health professionals to see how many of us are on the depression and anxiety spectrums…

    Thanks for the eloquent and powerful post Kathy–and that’s a lovely family pic, too:).

    *Hugs*

    • BirthTouch:

      Gee thanks for the positive feedback! LOL Linda i think that polling mental health pros is a great idea…I think many of us are wounded healers …and that’s why we pursued this high paying high status job where we get to fight with insurance companies on a daily basis! Thanks…now you can see how short I am! LOL!

  • Dawn:

    Kathy,
    Thanks for courageously “outing” yourself! I, too, think it’s important for mental health professionals to be real. I’m a “depression survivor” myself, although not from post-partum, and I feel that has made me a more compassionate counselor. I have a close relative that had really bad postpartum depression and she felt so guilty about it…that she didn’t want to be around her newborn. I was glad I could be there for her, but boy, what an eye-opener to see how debilitating this can be. It’s important work your doing. As a cancer survivor, I can understand what it’s like to get conflicting and sometimes hurtful messages and advice from everyone…we have that in common! My history of depression and cancer has shaped who I am and what I do, for sure. Thanks for sharing!
    Dawn

    • BirthTouch:

      Hi Dawn – Thanks so much for your compassionate reply! I think many of us in the helping professions are “wounded healers” and that is ok.
      We don’t need to be in the tight constricted boxes that graduate school wants us to be in. I worked in a setting with persons with serious & persistent mental illness (SPM) and a Cancer Center. So I always had ALOT of contact with my clients, not just in the “therapy room.” I am used to providing non-traditional and highly creative support, yet also having personal & professional boundaries. My clients understood too that there are boundaries and respected that situation. Keep up your good work! Take care, Kathy

  • Kathy,

    Wow. I was touched and humbled and inspired. And I’m all for each of us in healing professions being able to be clear and public (appropriately, of course), about the fact that we’ve struggled. Life has painful burdens and challenges for each of us to face. In fact, my own experiences as a therapy consumer when I was facing heartbreak & hurt make me a better therapist every single day. I think when more of us who have credentials and a public voice are wiling to own the fact that we too, have felt alone, afraid, ashamed, and stuck, that can only help decrease the stigma. Thanks for this beautiful post!

    Ann

    • BirthTouch:

      Hi Ann – Thanks so much for your reply! I really appreciate the positive feedback! I truly appreciate the way in which you expressed how I feel….that, yes, as more and more of us who have credentials and a public voice are willing to own and express that, yes we have had heartbreak, yes we are human, we are not automatons..and we are still ethical, competent healthcare providers. I think that is an important way we can decrease the stigma of mental illness and decrease the stigma that needing help is not a weakness. thanks for your thoughts!

  • Michael benson:

    As a father, I find Kathy Morelli’s courage and wisdom both inspirational and comforting. Keep up the great work, Kathy.

    • BirthTouch:

      Hi Michael! Thanks so much for the comments! I am honored to have such a well-known true crimes author commenting on my humble blog!
      Yes being a parent is quite a humbling and joyful experience!

  • Hi Kathy,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am sure that your post will help many who are struggling with similar issues and motivate others to tell their stories. Stories like yours helps put a human face on mental health issues and, so importantly, reduces the stigma. It’s gratifying to see that more and more mental health practitioners are doing the same. I finally decided to talk about my depression and anxiety story on my web-site…

    Blessings,

    Judith

    • BirthTouch:

      Hi Judith! Thanks so much for your comment!
      I love your comment that it helps to put a face on mental health issues and reduce stigma.
      I am going to pop on over to your blog and I want to read your story as well….
      take care, Kathy

  • Hi Kathy,
    I’m sure that this has been very helpful to many Moms to know that you’ve been there. Thanks for “outing” yourself. Takes courage and you have to be ready. I also like the resource that you posted.
    Great work.
    Carolyn

    • BirthTouch:

      Hi Carolyn – Thanks so much for your comments..they mean alot from such an experienced mental health practitioner, with so many years of good work under your belt! Namaste, Kathy

  • Hi Kathy,

    I admire you for sharing about your depression. I can relate to what you are saying about how it shaped your path. My early trauma experiences helped me to start to define my path from the age of 9. I knew even then that I wanted to become a therapist so I could help people. Getting specialized training as a trauma therapist transformed negative experiences into something positive for me. I can truly say I am grateful for my past because it helped shape who I am.

    Warmly,
    Andrea

    • Hi Andrea – Wow. What a beautiful comment! I am sad to hear that you went through such difficulties in your life. But it is inspiring that you rose like the phoenix, and are now in a profession where you can help others though your healing.
      Thanks so much for your comments!
      Take care, Kathy

  • […] I wrote about my debilitating postpartum depression for Psych Central’sWorld Mental Health Day… […]

  • This is wonderful to read. It is humbling to feel such a connection.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    Thank you.
    Janet recently posted..Sunday Blues.My Profile

  • This a wonderful tips it is great and nice to read something like this. Thanks for sharing this and i wish you all the good in the world
    marian recently posted..The Best Schools for CNA Training In California !My Profile

  • Dear Kathy,

    I am glad you shared your story again. It is a very important message for people with untreated depression, especially for postpartum women who are afraid to take medication.

    I was fortunate that my mood was even during pregnancy and while I was breastfeeding. However, I became depressed when I stopped breastfeeding. That was 21 years ago. I was already a mental health professional so I recognized the signs right away and got the help I needed.

    I know that some mental health professionals are against personal disclosures like this because of boundary concerns, but I believe sharing our stories helps reduce the stigma, which will hopefully encourage more people to seek help.

    Warmly,
    Andrea
    Andrea B. Goldberg, LCSW recently posted..Grief Over the Death of a ClientMy Profile

  • Hi Andrea – thanks for the kinds words! and glad you sought the help you needed…I’ve heard from other women that depression came after stopping breastfeeding….we women have complex hormonal systems and emotional lives! and thanks for the encouragement about sharing my story, it hurts to be criticized by other mental health pros…
    Kathy Morelli recently posted..Coming out of the closet about depression and postpartum depressionMy Profile

  • Thank you for sharing! After years of suffering through PPA/PPOCD, it was through finding blogs from others who share their stories that I realized I wasn’t alone & I realized that what I was going through actually had a name. I understand how hard it is to share, but I know it is so important. I am learning so much about myself & who I am & where I want to go with my life & I don’t think I would be at this place had I not gone through it. I believe sharing your story can & will only help others.
    Andrea recently posted..getting back to herMy Profile

  • I think it’s great that you’re sharing. I always feel better when working with a professional who I know really gets it. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all! It’s so important that we share these stories.
    Robin | Farewell, Stranger recently posted..It MattersMy Profile

    • Hi Robin – I truly appreciate your support, it is very healing for me. And I think it does make me more accessible to my clients. They know where I’ve been. Now that;s not to say I discuss this with my face to face clients, as it is ALL about them in my office. But, if they run across my blog, well, so be it. Sure doesn’t seem like most of them even bother to look me up online, tho!

  • Kathy, thank you so much for sharing your story. I think that being open about your struggles is empowering and liberating. It has been for me. It also has been a cathartic process. I felt validated in my struggles when I found blogs of fellow warrior moms who had gone through postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety just like me. The more we share, the more we can educate other women.
    Jenny recently posted..My wish for my birthday girlMy Profile

  • Hi Jenny – thank you so much for your support! I appreciate you saying “I think that being open about your struggles is empowering and liberating.” I think it has been as well, yet there are people on the ‘net who say that I need supervision b/c of how I behave (such a radical!)! It hurts to hear this and I think it is very old school, seems to be fear & authoritarian issues in there, thanks for your support!
    Kathy Morelli recently posted..Coming out of the closet about depression and postpartum depressionMy Profile

  • Kathy, thank you for sharing your story. I think our willingness to do so makes us more real to our clients. I am personally thinking about joining the outed club and sharing my story more publically also (I share in small venues). My only hesitation is the protection of others since my story involves trauma. It is encouraging to hear the stories of others and to see that our greatest fear of being shunned because of it is not reality. I mean that is what we tell our clients, guess we do well to live it ourselves.
    Blessings,
    Barb

    • Hi Barbara – Thank you for your kind words. I think it would be more difficult for me to share a trauma. There is so much stigma associated with different types of trauma. Maybe there is a way you can share your healing and not so much the trauma? I think it is hard to be a public figure and be judged everyday. Good luck to you and I do hope the guidance for how to approach your situation comes. much love, kathy

  • Kathy,

    I still find this post important and inspiring. Thanks again for sharing your story!

    Warmly,
    Ann
    Ann Becker-Schutte recently posted..Transforming Pain into PurposeMy Profile

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