Meet A’Driane Nieves. She is a Postpartum Depression and Anxiety survivor who writes about navigating the nuances of motherhood and Bipolar Disorder Type 2. A’Driane is also a USAF disabled veteran, writer and artist best known for her love of Prince (He re-tweeted her once!), and her hot pink streaked afro. You can read her mind at her blog Butterfly-Confessions.com, and read her random thoughts on Twitter (@addyeB). She was most recently named one of BlogHer’s Voices of the Year for 2014. She lives in Austin, Texas with her futurist husband and three boys.
BPP: You have written extensively and beautifully about your battle with post-partum depression. Can you briefly share what living with PPD was like for you?
AD: For me, living with PPD was like living in a dark room that you’re constantly stumbling around in, trying to find a light switch. At the same time, I felt like I was sitting atop a speeding train and had no idea where I was headed. It was a very unsettling and dark period in my life. It was like someone came in and robbed me of myself, of my being, and left nothing but this shell of a person. I felt lost. Very, very lost.
BPP: How did you recognize that your symptoms were more than the average “baby blues”?
AD: I knew something was wrong when my son (now four years old) was around three months old. He had moderate reflux during those early months and constantly wanted to be held. His crying was very triggering for me. He would cry and I would immediately break out into a sweat. My thoughts would become scattered, my heart would race, my body would tense up and I’d think about running away. On top of anxiety, I also experienced rage and deep wells of depression once the rage would dissipate. The rage was scary – it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It would come on unexpectedly, usually triggered by something as minor as my older son spilling something. It was so intense, I’d be shaking. I did a lot of screaming, which I still carry a lot of shame about. I spent a lot of time hiding in the bathroom, crying, consumed with guilt and wondering why I couldn’t enjoy my children. When I was at my worst, I felt completely overwhelmed and incapable of being a “good” mother. I had intrusive thoughts – scary thoughts would flash through my mind while I was driving, cooking or bathing my kids. I dreaded each day, having to talk to people and even having to hold my son. There were days I was so “touched out”, holding him or having my oldest give me a hug would make my skin crawl. It was awful. Truly awful. It was hell. I felt so lost. Had no idea what was happening to me.
BPP: What helped you to finally “climb out of the darkness” and overcome your PPD?
AD: When my son was ten months old, I remember being so consumed with sadness for two weeks that I was suicidal. It was January 2011. I remember sitting down in my closet one night after my kids had finally gone to bed, closing the door and I just lost it right there, not understanding what was wrong with me, and wanting relief from it. I had heard of Postpartum Depression but I didn’t really know much about it – I knew of no other women in my life who had it, and my OB didn’t discuss it with me. When I had mentioned at my six week visit I felt “off” he said it was normal, just hormones, and wrote me a prescription for an anti-depressant (if I felt I needed to use it). That was it. So I Googled some of my symptoms and the first site that came up in the search results was Postpartum Progress. I read the “Plain Mama English” guides on what PPD and other postpartum-related mental illnesses were and finally felt like I had an idea as to what I had been experiencing. I emailed Katherine Stone (the founder) and the next day, she responded, reassuring me that I would be OK, I wasn’t a bad mother and that what I had was treatable – I just needed to seek help. She directed me to the Postpartum Stress Center in Rosemont, PA, and that’s where I began treatment. Saved my life. What also helped during my recovery was finding #PPDChat on Twitter, run by Lauren Hale of My Postpartum Voice. It’s a weekly chat on Twitter that offers peer support from other women who are still struggling and those who are survivors.
BPP: Can you share more about Post-Partum Progress and it’s mission?
AD: Postpartum Progress is a nonprofit laser focused on improving maternal mental health by increasing awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like PPD and giving mothers tools that connect them to the help they need. Postpartum Progress is all about ensuring mothers know the facts on perinatal mental illness, encouraging them to seek treatment as soon as possible, and eliminating the stigma surrounding these illnesses that keep so many women silent and untreated every year. They empower moms to care for their mental health, which in turn helps their families have the strongest start possible. It is now known that 1 in 7 mothers experiences a perinatal mental illness like PPD – it is the most common complication of childbirth, impacting over 1 million women every year in just the US alone. Yet only 15% of those impacted receive adequate treatment, so that means more than half a million women are going untreated every year. Research shows that untreated depression in mothers has a long-term impact on their children’s development, which really makes this not just a women’s health issue but a children’s health issue as well. The good news is that perinatal mental illnesses are treatable! Postpartum Progress works hard to create outreach and support programs that help mothers as they work toward recovery. The community Katherine has built over the last 10 years through Postpartum Progress is just amazing – I’ve never met a braver or more authentic community of women. So supportive and committed to changing the conversation about mental health and effecting change. Katherine calls women who suffer from perinatal mental illnesses Warrior Moms, and the Warrior Mom Army is FIERCE.
BPP: How are you currently advocating for PPD awareness and outreach?
AD: Right now most of my advocacy revolves around helping Postpartum Progress in any way I can. I’m on the editorial team for the blog. I participated in this year’s Mother’s Day Rally for Moms, an annual event Postpartum Progress holds on the blog every year to encourage pregnant and new moms who are suffering and working their way to recovery. I’m heavily involved with fundraising for Postpartum Progress through its annual fundraising & awareness event called Climb Out of the Darkness. On June 21st, the longest day of the year, Warrior Moms all over the world will be climbing, walking, and hiking to represent our rising out of the darkness of PPD and related illness and into the light and hope of recovery. It is the world’s largest event raising awareness of postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and OCD, postpartum PTSD, postpartum psychosis, postpartum bipolar disorder and depression and anxiety during pregnancy. I’m also co-chairing the upcoming Warrior Mom Conference which is taking place next summer in Boston. We’ll be getting together with moms from all over the country to celebrate recovery and get skills training on how to better advocate for maternal mental health in our own communities. On a smaller scale, I do what I can to help destigmatize ALL mental illness by sharing from my personal experience on my blog and other social media.
BPP: Can you share some common misconceptions about PPD?
AD: I think one of the biggest misconceptions about PPD is that if you have it, you’re just sad all the time, which isn’t the case for so many women I know. There’s a wide range of symptoms that women can experience based on what type of illness they are suffering from that are very rarely discussed. I mentioned rage eariler – no one ever told me that rage was a symptom of depression, or that noises like an infant crying could trigger an anxiety or panic attack. The other big misconception is that if you just do all the “right” things – eat right, exercise, adopt a certain parenting lifestyle, etc., you will avoid developing PPD, and that it’s something you can just get rid of on your own. PPD and related illnesses don’t discriminate. In fact, most women have their first depressive episode in the first year postpartum. And PPD doesn’t just go away when it’s left untreated. As I mentioned before it can have a long-term impact on the health of mothers and their babies if never treated properly.
BPP: What is your life like now as a mother?
AD: Life as a mother now is…chaotic but manageable! I have three boys now – a 7, 4, and 6 mo and life is super busy. There are hard days and moments where I’m overwhelmed but I’m grateful to have a treatment plan that works for me, and a solid support system that includes fellow Warrior Moms. (They seriously are the freaking best.) My bond with all three of my children (even the one I had PPD with) is rock solid. My postpartum experience with my 6mo has been the complete opposite of what I experienced 4 years ago. Having support, and being aware really does make all the difference. I love being a mom now. I don’t dread it like I did during those dark days.
BPP: You are a seasoned and well-known blogger. Can you talk about how writing has helped you in your battle with a mood-disorder?
AD: I’ve always been a writer but I started my blog as a way to help me just brain dump all that I had going on four years ago. Writing has always helped me process what I’m wrestling my way through, and my blog has definitely helped me navigate the ups and downs of motherhood and mental illness. It’s given me a safe place to go to, you know? It’s the one place I know I can go and just be completely vulnerable, sharing whatever it is that comes out when I start typing on the keyboard. It gives me insight into myself, and helps me articulate something that I might be having a hard time explaining out loud to someone like my husband or psychiatrist. I t also helps me feel less alone. People will read and comment, and say, “Hey, me too,” and that helps me keep fighting on the hard days. Even when no one reads and there aren’t any comments, just having that space to say what I need to is crucial. My hope is that by being completely honest and vulnerable there, I can leave an archive that my boys can read when they’re older. They might want to understand who I was as a person living with mental illness, a woman and their mother.
BPP: What advice would you give to any new mother (or father) who feels like they are sinking emotionally after bringing a baby into their life?
AD: You are not alone. You are not “crazy”. You are not a bad parent for feeling the way you do, and it’s not your fault you feel this way. You are loved and worthy and the very best parent for your child. Be honest with yourself about what you’re experiencing. Seek professional help. Be your own advocate-fight for yourself like you would for your child or even for yourself if you had a physical illness like cancer. Find support groups both online and off. Let others help you. It gets better. It really does. It did for me.
A’Driane, thank you, thank you for sharing your story with us and for advocating so passionately for other parents who struggle with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. Your dedication and transparency are true gifts to other new mothers and fathers. – C & K ♥
Want to contribute to Team Austin’s Climb Out of the Darkness Fundraiser? https://www.crowdrise.com/addyeB-COTD2014/fundraiser/addyeB
Want to read more about A’Driane? Check out her blog: http://butterfly-confessions.com/
Want to learn more about Postpartum Progress? http://www.postpartumprogress.com/about
Read Katherine Stone’s Call to Action on National Healthy Babies Healthy Mother’s Coalition’s site for their “May Campaign” initiative during Maternal Mental Health Week (this week!): http://www.hmhb.org/2014/05/maternal-mental-health-call-to-action/