Today I sat down here at the computer, pulled up Google and typed the following into the search box:
how many African American women suffer from postpartum depression?
do Black women suffer from postpartum depression?
how do Black women deal with postpartum depression?
Guess what came up? NOTHING. Not one specific thing that answered the questions I queried. The closest I got was an article that discussed a study done in Iowa back in 2008, and an article that discussed the link between domestic violence and postpartum depression in African-American women.
What's wrong with this picture? Why is it that among the thousands upon thousands of search results returned, nothing specific, direct, and "here's what you're looking for, click here!" was featured on the first page of results? Or the second page? Why is so much of the information not recent or particularly relevant?
This not only frustrates me but it saddens me. Angers me even. If a simple Google search doesn't yield solid results, how are black women supposed to find the help they may need?
I could spend all day talking about why African Americans don't seek help for any kind of mental struggle but it pretty much boils down to the fact that we don't think we need help. Ask a person of color about this and you're likely to hear the following:
- Due to slavery, 400 years of oppression and trauma, black people feel that if we survived all of that, we can survive anything-WITHOUT help from a doctor
- Your family is your therapist-why waste money talking to some expensive doctor about your problems when you can just talk to your mama or grandma for free? It's their advice that matters because after all, look at what they went through, at what they have survived-they made it, and so will you!
- Bootstraps. Black people have the strongest, longest, toughest bootstraps in the world-and when faced with adversity, we pull ourselves up by them and "keep it movin."
- Church. You can pray away any of your troubles. Seriously. If you pray and you're still having mental issues, then you're faith just isn't strong enough and maybe you did something to deserve what you're going through.
- To admit you have a problem is to admit weakness. Weakness doesn't happen to us. We are strong. We survived slavery, remember?
- Therapy & meds are too expensive
And the list can go on forever. You're probably thinking that some of what I just mentioned sounds outrageous and I'd have to agree with you that it does. But these are the things that perpetuate stigmas about mental illness in the black community.
I can also tell you that for women of color the stigmas run even deeper and the expectations for us are even higher. Black women in our community are viewed as strong, capable, able to handle anything and conquer adversity like Michael Jordan conquered dunks back in his hey day-with incredible, effortless, ease. We make do with what we have, we sacrifice what we need to, and we NEVER (I mean NEVER) complain about any of it. We endure hardships like single parenthood with our mouths shut...our mothers and their mothers before them handled life that way, and without outside help, why would we do any different?
After I had Alex, my postpartum depression manifested as uncontrollable rage, severe swings in moods and severe anxiety. Alex would cry and I would literally want to crawl out of my skin. Brennan would spill something and I would either explode in anger or burst into tears. Think I could talk to anyone about it? I tried talking to my mom.....I got the bootstrap, "God will work it out, " and "just give it time" speech. I talked to some women at my church...."I don't think there's anything wrong with you. I mean, look at all you have to deal with, especially being a single parent. If you're circumstances were different, you'd be fine. You're alright. Trust me," was the consensus. I even had a friend tell me that they were "giving up" on me, and that my "problems" were too much to deal with.
I wasn't fine. Not by a long shot. So I called my state funded health insurance and found a therapist. Only he wasn't a real therapist-he was a state social worker. His reaction? "Any woman in your position would feel the way you do. That doesn't mean you have PPD. Lots of women like you, who are black & single mothers with more than one child feel this way." Lots of women "like" me? Really?
What's my point by saying all of this? It's simple, really:
BLACK WOMEN SUFFER FROM POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION TOO.
I know they do. They have to. Because I did. I'm recovered now and I have a new diagnosis, but the fact still remains that I spent a year after Alex's birth fighting my way through PPD. But you wouldn't know that if I didn't talk about it. And we don't know how many other black mothers are out there, suffering in silence, thinking that they "don't have time" or are "too blessed to be stressed" to properly deal with the hell they are experiencing, thinking it's a natural part of motherhood and even single parenthood.
We only hear about postpartum depression from white female celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Brooke Shields. The closest I've found to anyone in the black "celebrity" community discussing PPD is Mocha Manual author & speaker Kimberly Seals Ayers, whose PPD story you can read here. Even she admits that PPD is more common among women of color but no one will admit to or talk about it. Essence, Ebony, and other magazines geared toward "black" audiences have yet to publish any significant articles on the subject in their health features. I can't recall reading even ONE.
I asked a friend of mine today why she thinks women of color, particularly younger women, don't seek treatment for issues like PPD. She's a new mother whose son was born premature and has been struggling with PPD pretty badly. Her response?
I think it's real problem that more women my age (she's 24) suffer from than would admit...Black people have this mindset that going to therapy and taking meds means you're crazy instead of meaning that you're informed about your mental health & getting healthy. Until I actually went to therapy and got meds I was one of those uneducated people who thought & was afraid that people would think I was "crazy" and would need meds to function, you know?
Postpartum depression just doesn't happen to white women. It happens to black women and other women of color too. What is it going to take to change the perception and stigma? How can it even BE changed if no one will talk about it?
I don't know what the answer is y'all but I'm determined more than ever to be a voice and to keep sharing my story and my experience because mamas of color & their babies deserve strong, healthy starts too. Here's to hoping that one day my voice encourages others to speak up and reach out too. I'll leave you with this quote from Monica Coleman, Ph.D. (click her name to visit her website! it's incredible!)
In many ways, I do think that there is a greater stigma among African-American culture than among white cultures. I live in southern California, and many white people will freely reference “seeing a therapist” in normal conversation. Black people don’t do that. Seeing a therapist is generally seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of faith. There is still an active mythos of “the strong black woman,” who is supposed to be strong and present and capable for everyone in her family – and neglects her own needs. In the midst of a depressive episode, I had a friend say to me, “We are the descendants of those who survived the Middle Passage and slavery. Whatever you’re going through cannot be that bad.” I was so hurt and angry by that statement. No, depression isn’t human trafficking, genocide or slavery, but it is real death-threatening pain to me. And of course, there are those who did not survive those travesties. But that comment just made me feel small and selfish and far worse than before. It made me wish I had never said anything at all.
- Depression is a Threat to a Healthy Pregnancy (kellybrewster.wordpress.com)
- How is postpartum depression treated? How to help? (nayellitt.wordpress.com)
Wow. I did it.
I'm sitting here on my couch snotting and sobbing from relief, elation, and gratitude.
I did it y'all.
I MADE IT THROUGH MY 1ST SEMESTER AT PBU.
I'm in shock and awe about this because back in July, and even as recently as October when I wrote this, it just seemed like such a daunting task.
- Bad breakup; newly single
- New diagnosis
- New medications & adjustments
- New therapies & psychiatrist appointments
- New state, new city, new apartment, new environment...far away from family & church support
- New bills
- My boys
- My (hypo)mania
- My severe depression
- My "mixed" states
- Excruciating anxiety
- Struggling with wanting to live...and fighting urges to self-injure (which I didn't always succeed in doing)
- New school
- Full course load
- Surviving off of GI Bill benefits, disability, & financial aide...new financial worries
- A therapy & medication routine that's starting to be effective and take hold
- A fresh perspective, one that's no longer weighed down by unrealistic expectations & standards
- A course load that's manageable because of academic accommodations and open dialogue with my professors
- Two unbelievably amazing close friends, one old, one new (I'm looking at you, Lyrical Dilettante) who hold me accountable, help me see myself in a healthy, realistic light...and just...accept me. challenge me. laugh with me. dance with me...cook with me...and sit with me when I'm in my low moments and am struggling with wanting to kill myself.
- An INCREDIBLE group of online friends who feel more like family. From my #PPDChat Army (Lauren, Charity, Susan, Jaime, Katherine, Story, & more).... to my new friends in the Bipolar Depression Closed support group on Facebook, who are from all over the world, and encourage me on a daily basis, help me understand my BP, and love on me in my darkest moments....
- My other "in real life" friends who I talk to at school and on Facebook...old and new...blood related and not...
- My boys...happy...healthy....growing...laughing...super smart and enjoying being their own people
- Forgiveness and understanding paving the way for a healthier relationship with my ex...
- A new dating potential who told me this morning that I don't have to hustle for worthiness with him, out of fear he'll leave....as he puts it, "I'm here because I want you." (His exact words.)
- Oh yeah....and my new hair color!
The view from up here is breathtaking....Even with all of it's stress, highs, lows, and anxiety, everything I mentioned above has created a solid and healthy environment for me to live and thrive in. Catching a glimpse of the beauty that's laid out before me fills my heart with a quiet comfort because I know when it's time to climb the next mountain (and the next semester) I can do it.
I have everything I need to make it :) I'm so grateful for all of you it's ridiculous!
First, before I write another word, I want to play and sing along with this song.....(ahem, clearing throat for serious belting out)
"WHOOOAAA OHHHHH OH OH OH, OH OH...." Ok, got that out of my system. When I buy my ukulele (which is on my life list) this will be the first song I attempt to play. I'll tell you the second one in another post :)
Second, I'd like to say that I just took my meds for the day, SO, their effects are having an affect on me. In other words, physically, they make me lose my balance-ALOT. So for the first hour after I take them, I'm a complete klutz and I feel funny in head. Not in a bad way, but just in a "I just took a dose of nyquil" kind of way. So I apologize for any typos, ramblings or nonsensical things that spill forth from this paragraph on...
So. I graduated in May with an Associates in Arts. I'm so appreciative and grateful for those who supported me through that journey, but I want to take a moment and thank my therapist at the Postpartum Stress Center in Rosemont. One of the first assignments she gave me when I expressed my icky feelings about how the school had messed up my credits, was to go to the dean and asked to be "grandfathered" into the program, because they messed up and I REALLY needed to graduate. I looked at her like she was crazy....cause, I hate doing things like that. But. I went. I did it. AND IT WORKED. They adjusted some things, had to pick up an extra class, and I GRADUATED.
During this time I also took a step, no a LEAP of faith and decided to act on the pull in my gut to change my major. I love social media, but I had been feeling the urge to pursue my passion-helping people. Helping women. Mamas. Veterans. People like me who have been through what I've experienced. I'll write more about that in part 2 of this post....but as I was saying, I took a giant leap of faith and applied to a school I had been told & advised had the best counseling program in the area. And it was a Christian university. The pull grew so strong, it overrode my nerves and I applied. I GOT IN. *cue the celebration music*
Well today is Tuesday. Orientation starts on Thursday and goes through the weekend. And I'm a little (re VERY) freaked out about it. Excited to be in a place where I can grow spiritually and really let my inner bible geek feast off of the knowledge of my professors, go deeper into the bible and firm up what I believe? Nervous but determined? YES very. To say I need to be here at this time in my life is an understatement.
But I'm nervous ya'll. Of course most schools these days have "non traditional" students who take classes....but will they be in my classes with me, during the day? Not taking night classes because, hey my boys need daycare. I'm 28 with 2 kids. I know millions of women do this everyday and make it happen. I know I can make it happen, especially now that I'm taking care of myself mentally. I just...I don't know. I want to really experience that whole "going away to college thing". I want to be a part of the community. Get involved. Not to the point where I'm overworked or neglecting my mamahood responsibilities,but I want to be active, engaged, go to homecoming, sign up for projects and ministry outreaches. That's why I've let go of things like consulting. Why I've let go of other duties & responsibilities at my church. (I have other reasons for this too, but that's a WHOLE other topic) Why when things with my ex ended, I transported myself out here to an apartment I'm renting through the campus.
I feel so strongly, that I need this. I know I'm out here where I essentially know no one. I know I'm "on my own" in a sense, away from family, church, and everything that was familiar to me. But....I just can't shake this feeling that this is how it's supposed to be. And by feeling, I mean not some fickle matter of the heart. I'm talking destiny here folks. That whole "I have to make a drastic change in my life to progress" feeling. And while others may disagree, I'm believing that it's God's will. He's working it out so far.
So my question that I pose to you is this: As a mama, am I being too unrealistic here with wanting to get the full college experience? And if I'm not, any suggestions on how to juggle, balance, manage this? I know because of my situation I'm not a traditional student...but does that mean I'm wrong or delusional for wanting this? How do I make this work for me and my boys? Anyone out there been through this? I'm taking any and all suggestions.
I've been a quiet wreck the past 3-4 weeks. Quiet, meaning I haven't said much about it and have kept the emotions exploding within me to myself.
A wreck, meaning that at any given moment during the said time frame, I've had tears streaming down my face, physical evidence of the flood of emotions consuming my heart and mind....
Any given moment meaning while I'm driving my car....huffing, puffing, & heaving my 30lb overweight body through a 3 mile run...washing my hair in the shower....eating a peanut butter/banana/honey sandwich and wasting time on Twitter (@addyeB-follow me! I follow back-unless you're a spammer...or creepy)...changing my 13mo old's diaper, you get the picture-completely random and quite unexpectedly, I'd find myself crying and clenching my fists....
But not because of stress, although I've had PLENTY of it recently....or because of sweat-inducing anxiety (which is NOT fun and tends to happen way too often in my opinion)...or due to a complete, overwhelming lack of motivation or depressing thoughts (you know, the kind where just the THOUGHT of moving wears you out)...No I've been a wreck for a GOOD reason-let me explain:
It started at Camden County College's "Spring Fling" a few weeks ago. Well actually, it started that morning as I was in the shower feeling the excitement over picking up my cap & gown spreading like warm sunshine on my skin. The more I thought about it, the more I thought about the journey it took to reach that point-and that's when the levee broke, emotions charging through my mind like a rushing current...
4 1/2years ago, I was a single mother living off of a $506 bi-weekly unemployment stipend, and had been separated from the Air Force for about six months. I'd spent those six months fighting for said unemployment benefits, navigating the social services system for healthcare, living with friends, living with strangers, trying to recover from (another) failed relationship (my judgement really SUCKED back then), trying to get my son's father to indeed acknowledge that he WAS the father, searching for a job, and learning how to adjust to this new role I found myself in: MOTHER.
When I look back over the time since then I see snapshots of myself: going hungry so I could spend the money I had on groceries/diapers/necessities for my son...being homeless and trying to find a shelter for us to live in....endless job searches....working the overnight shift at Target stocking shelves, wondering if I'd ever get back on my feet....having to move back in with my parents and share a room with my sister (I used to feel so guilty about that)....waiting for a year to FINALLY get disability compensation from the VA and another 6 months to FINALLY get into a VA education program so I could go back to school....The agonizing "should I go to school for what I really want, or should I just go for something guaranteed, like medical coding" decision process.(I chose the first option)...having another child and realizing I'd have to put school on hold for awhile....struggling with depression and anxiety the past two years....sitting out in my car in the college parking lot a mere 10 weeks ago, hopes crushed because of a small glitch in the computer system, wanting to give up because I thought graduating just wasn't in the cards for me-I wanted to give up-badly....
So many disappointments. Failures. Mistakes. Pain. Frustration. Anger....The rigors of discipline. Learning the nuances of time management. Stress. Not knowing how I was going to make it financially. Guilt. Shame....some of the valleys I've spent time in the past 4 years have been the darkest and driest ones I've found myself in yet....Some of which I never thought I'd make it out of...
BUT I've had triumphs and successes too. I've been stretched and have grown. Been broken and rebuilt. Refined and remade time and again throughout this journey....
And so when I walked up to the table where they were passing out caps and gowns to graduation candidates, I almost couldn't do it. There I was, standing in a crowd of people, afraid to step forward and claim the prize I've wanted most since I was in kindergarten.(Going to and graduating from college has been a dream/goal of mine since I started school. Yes, I love to learn-I'm a nerd) Afraid that when I gave the lady my name, she'd look over the list, look at me apologetically and say, "I'm sorry, but I don't see your name." When I finally got the nerve to approach the table, handed her my ID and received my cap & gown in my hands, I realized my hands were shaking and I had to blink back gallon sized tears....
The same tears that threatened to spill over as I sat in rehearsal yesterday, in awe that I was actually there. This was it...
All the worry about finals, all the pressure, all the fatigue, all the work it had taken to stand with the hundreds of others in the gym who had completed the same journey-It had paid off. I made it. Listening to the various details & instructions being given to us about where to sit, where to stand, who's hand to shake, feeling the buzz of eager anticipation and excitement made me realize that the journey had been worth it. Every. Single. Step.
And I was/am still in awe that I'm here. It feels surreal to be in the middle of a dream that's become a reality. I didn't think I'd make it. Some told me I'd make it, others....others said I wouldn't. My dad, growing up, he said I would never become anything, that even though I was smart I didn't have what it took to make something of myself, told me I didn't deserve to be where I am right now. But when I walk across the stage tomorrow to receive my degree, it will feel so good to know that he was wrong.
I think what has me the most overwhelmed and emotional is this feeling of humility that lays deep in my heart. When I think back and remember the past 4 years, I'm just humbled because I see that I haven't reached this point because I'm so great, or smart, or organized, or have it all together. When I look at the fact that I'm graduating tomorrow, and all that I went through, I just see God. I see His faithfulness. I see His love, His mercy, His compassion for me. I see Him holding me together when I was falling apart. In the midst of my mistakes, depression, struggles, anxiety, and pain, I see Him navigating me through it all. I see Him giving me favor with my teachers, working behind the scenes to help me get to this point...using people in my life to encourage me to keep going despite any mistakes I made or bad circumstances I found myself in. I just see God and His greatness, and I'm humbled by knowing that I'm here because He got me here, and that myself and my faith has grown leaps & bounds because of this experience.
I graduate tomorrow at 10am with an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Communications. In the fall I'll start a new journey, pursuing my bachelor's & master'd degree in counseling. But before I start down that road, I'm just going to sit and soak in this moment, this victory at the top of the mountain and enjoy looking out at what's ahead of me.
It's a pretty awesome view.
A collection of random dialogues and happenings while attending college classes In Concepts of Math, my prof is introducing "sets": "Enumerate...now there's a word I love to say, it just has a nice way of roollling off the tongue, don't you think? Enumerate I could say it over and over again, it just does something for me!"
Come again? Yep, definitely a geek squared!
In my Psych 101 class last week, sitting in front of and overhearing a convo between two chicks who chain smoke and have pet snakes...
"OMG, so like when we got the snake we didn't know if it was like, you know, male or female...but my boyfriend was cleaning out the bedding one day and noticed all this stuff that looked like I dunno, shedding or something and he put it outside and we realized later on that the shedding stuff was actually EGGS and I was like 'OMG, you idiot, how could you freeze snake eggs?' "
*Note: I have a reptile phobia, especially when it comes to snakes* UMMMM 1) excuse me while I barf and 2) yea...I need to switch seats ASAP *scanning classroom for available seats-darn! The prof is starting to lecture, UGH, I'm officially grossed out and feel dirty all of a sudden-HELP!
Standing in the Madison Connector building, trying to warm up before moving to the next building where my class is, I notice two guys whistle at this girl who just entered the building. She stops immediately, whips her head around and says:
"Do I LOOK like a dog to you? Grow up!"
That's right, demand respect my fellow female! (Power fist in the air)
In my Psych 101 class today, 1) I'm sitting FAR away from smoking snake girls, but found myself next to two new guys who lean over and ask me:
"Hey, is that 'sexy chick' up there our teacher or what? Don't tell me that's her!" When I reply in the affirmative, they high-five each other and one goes: "Dude, its going to be a sexy semester-I bet she's single..." I stopped listening at that point, and
2)Meanwhile, 'sexy chick' prof is having technical issues with the projector. She leaves the room to call the tech dept...Immediately the black girl sitting to my left makes an announcement:
"Ok class, here you go (holding up a stack of typed up sheets) we've got all of chapter 1 notes WITH the chapter review and key terms all prepared and available for $5/ copy! Chapter 2 will be ready next class...I'm also available for tax preparation, and can hook up your cable through Comcast...what?! I got classes to pay for, so I gotta get in where I fit in!"
If you're wondering if she just gave knew meaning to the words "grindin" and "hustling" while reinforcing a few stereotypes, YES she just did.
I had to whip out my Crackberry and post that on Facebook-It was too good to resist :)