Blogging For Mental Health :: My Time in the Dark

Dear Reader,
 
If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you may be aware that I am passionate about supporting mental health as a central component of good health care.  This May, many organizations that support mental health are celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month.  The American Psychological Association is sponsoring a blog party today to increase awareness and advocacy.  If you’re just hearing about this now, don’t worry, there’s still time today to share your story.  Just follow the link for more information.  Today’s blog is my contribution to the blog party–a story of part of my life when I was most in need of mental health support.  I know that this is an unusual step for a psychologist to take.  However, I believe that each of us will face moments of absolute darkness and pain–and that we all deserve to have the support that we need to get through those times.  If sharing my story helps another person reach out for support, that is a wonderful outcome.  I apologize in advance for the longer-than-normal post.
 
Warmly,
Ann
 

Mental Health Blog Party Badge

The Background

I am from a large family.  Both of my parents are from large families.  I don’t think that I ever questioned my intention to have children–or my expectation that I would.  So, in 1999, when I was diagnosed with PCOS, a condition that creates multiple health complications–including possible infertility, I was stunned.  In addition to the challenges of managing a chronic health problem, I was face to face with the possibility of not having children.

In 2004, I had the joyful surprise of a positive pregnancy test.  I thought that I had dodged the odds and that maybe I could take away the power of that earlier diagnosis.  I got to hear a heartbeat and see a beautiful little person moving about on the sonogram.

The Crisis

And then.  Then there was the appointment when there was no heartbeat.  Then there was the sonogram where there was no movement.  Then there was a flurry medication and induced labor.  Then there was the recognition that I was spending Mother’s Day weekend delivering a baby who had died. Then something that had been a dream became a nightmare.

I don’t remember much–they told me later that I almost died too.  I have hazy memories of heat and pain and tears.  I know that I wanted to know when I could wake up and have my life back.  I remember holding my tiny, perfect little boy–whose fingers and toes were all there, but whose heart just quit working.

The Dark

It took over a month for my body to heal, for the doctors to release me from the activity restrictions and pronounce me ready to return to real life.  But the rest of the healing–that seemed like it was never going to happen.  Seeing pregnant women hurt me.  Seeing newborn babies hurt me.  Sunshine and laughter hurt me.

I think that, maybe, I didn’t want to heal.  It felt like healing meant letting go.  It felt like healing meant saying that it was okay that my son died while other babies were born into homes where they would be abused or neglected.

I stumbled through life.  My body went to work, my body did chores at home–sometimes.  I was moody and tearful–most of the time.  I’m pretty sure that I didn’t actually participate in most of my relationships.  I was too trapped in the darkness inside of my head and my heart.  The broken spaces that felt like they could never stop hurting.  The ugly spaces that resented everyone who had what I had lost.

Looking back now, I know that most of my family and friends were frightened for me.  They grieved the loss of my son, but they also worried that they were losing me.  I don’t think that their worries were exaggerated or off base.  I was feeling pretty lost myself. I know that, even if I wasn’t suicidal, I wasn’t very committed to my life at that time.

A Path to Light

Finally, in desperation, eight months after our son died, my partner suggested attending a perinatal bereavement support group.  And in that group, I (and we) found our path out of the dark.  Everyone sitting around that table, including the facilitating therapist, had lost children.  They understood my grief, my anger, my despair, my frustration.  They passed the Kleenex, and didn’t suggest that maybe I should just “be over it” by now.  They helped me feel found–and accepted.  They acknowledged my son as a real person and my grief as real grief.

Between the group and the individual support sessions, I found my way back to myself.  I allowed myself to think about a future, to plan for children, to redefine my world.  It wasn’t easy or fast.  I never approach Mother’s Day weekend without some sadness.  I am a different person than I was before the darkness.

My Hope

I didn’t choose to share this story so that you would be sad with me.  In fact, I have a loving partner, and beautiful children (there are lots of ways to make a family).  I would never have chosen my time in the darkness, and I know that because of it, I am kinder and more compassionate.  I value life more than I did before.

I chose to share this story because my darkness was changed by the presence of good mental health care.  Without that group, my outcome may have been different.  If you only take away one thing, I hope it is this: we will all face dark times, and we all deserve good support to find our way through them.  If you are in the dark, please don’t hesitate to reach out, to me or to other resources, for the help you deserve.

 

Image Credit: Darkness by Felixe via Flickr
Image Credit: Path into Light by j-dub1980 via Flickr
Image Credit: Holding Hands by tanjila via Flickr

 

 

34 thoughts on “Blogging For Mental Health :: My Time in the Dark

  1. Thank you so much for sharing such an important post, Ann. I think it’s important for people to know that mental health professionals also have mental health problems, just like medical doctors can have medical problems. You’re right – all of us face dark times, and we all deserve support through the darkness.

    1. Rachelle,

      You hit on what I was trying to convey–these struggles are normal, just like getting sick is normal. Illness, whether it’s mental or physical, is a part of human experience. My own struggles have made me a better psychologist, and part of why I’m better is that I got the help I needed. Thank you.

      Warmly,
      Ann

  2. Our experiences inform our work as therapists. It provides you a new perspective for supporting others and assisting them in working through difficult times. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    1. JoAnn,

      It was an honor to share. As I said in the intro, I hesitated a bit about this, because of the idea that therapists are supposed to be a blank canvas–but I’m not blank. I’m composed of my experiences, and my experiences fill me with the passion and compassion to do the work I have chosen.

      Warmly,
      Ann

  3. Ann,
    Thanks so much for sharing this sad loss and your recovery. It is so helpful to hear that others suffer loss, and that one can recover with the appropriate help. Even the helpers need help!
    Warmly,
    Carolyn

    1. Carolyn,

      ‘Even the helpers need help’ indeed! I know that I am a better therapist today because of the support I received when I needed it most.

      Warmly,
      Ann

  4. Thank you for this brave post. I think you have done this in a very heartfelt way and I think you will help a lot of people with your honest reflection on your own journey of grieving the loss of your baby and navigating your own illness.
    Best, Allison

  5. Ann,
    Thank you for sharing this painful memory from your past. I’m sorry for that loss. Years ago a really close friend of mine delivered a still-born baby girl and the experience was, of course, gut wrenching even for me as her friend. There was much to learn there…

    You’re so right about the need for better and more mental health care. I believe it’s a missing piece in cancer care. You sound like a wonderful therapist. All of your experiences make you more compassionate. Hopefully that’s true for all of us. Thanks for taking part in the blog party. I did as well.

    1. Nancy,

      Thank you for your thoughtful words. Pregnancy loss, whether it is through miscarriage or stillbirth, is very common, but it is rarely spoken of or acknowledged. For me, that silence complicated the pain–it felt like I had to hide my grief. That was one reason I chose to write this post. I saw your post and appreciated it.

      Warmly,
      Ann

  6. Wow! Incredible writing! You have written my very own thoughts and emotions, right here on your page. Except that I’m not there yet. I’m still looking for a support group…I hope I find one soon, it’s been almost four years in the dark for me.

    Dianne

    1. Diane,

      I am so very sorry to hear of your loss, and I hope that your pain was eased a bit for being shared. The support group that I attended was hosted by a local hospital. What part of the world are you in? I’ll continue to think about you and hope that there is some light in your darkness soon..

      Warmly,
      Ann

      1. Ann,

        I life somewhat near to the San Francisco bay area. There is a post cancer group at our local hospital that meets while I am at work. 🙁 I also was diagnosed with CRPS as a complication of me BC surgery. This has been such a large thing to overcome. I do not know of any support group for this nearby – and certainly not one that includes both!

        At the same time life (teenagers, aging parents, bad economy, friends and family deaths) was going on around me. I was totally overwhelmed.

        I am still struggling, but making progress. I keep searching for some kind of help but usually coming up empty handed.

        If you have suggestions, I am open to that!

        Dianne

        1. Dianne,

          I know, when our lives become complicated with many letters, that finding help that “fits” can be a real challenge. Have you looked into some of the support available online? I know that the Breast Cancer and Social Media (#bcsm) community has regular Tweetchats most Monday evenings at 6:00 pm your time (which may be in the middle of family time). That community is very diverse and offers great support. There are also several community members and physicians who are located in California and may know the resources there better than I do.

          I don’t know what kind of insurance coverage you have, but even one session a month with an in-network psychologist may give you a space to feel heard and supported.

          That is all very general stuff, and I wish I had more specific answers for you. Please know that you are in my thoughts.

          Warmly,
          Ann

          1. Ann,

            Thanks for the suggestions. I do get some support from the ladies with bcsm although I don’t ever join in the tweetchats. I don’t have a twitter account. Unfortunately, my experience was so very different from most of theirs that, although they have been very encouraging, there is no way any of them could really understand. I would just really love to find someone, anyone, that could really understand. I kind of feel like an outsider, because my experiences are so very different. While they mostly get gradually better, I do not.

            My insurance has already paid for many sessions with a cancer psychologist, who is really, really wonderful, but has no experience with CRPS. I have also spent time with several psychiatrists. You see, the pain medications and cancer medications had the unfortunate side-effect of making me suicidal, which no one realized until I had been committed to a mental institution (not really the place to send a cancer patient). Even after that, no one took the side effects seriously until I had suffered for a full three years, and decided to take myself off all the medications – and felt sooo much better.

            It has been a really long haul for me. I sometimes can’t even believe all that I have been through. I long for the day when I just wake up and realize that this has just been a bad dream. But no such luck. I wish I could find someone with some specific answers too. I scour the internet for resources. I just come up short.

            Thanks for listening. Thanks for writing about your experience. It is somewhat comforting to know that someone else out there has had some of the same feelings – and recovered. I’ll keep working on it.

            Best regards,

            Dianne

          2. Dianne,

            It has been such a challenging and painful road. You get credit for continuing to reach out, continuing to hope, continuing to try. Even if you can’t find someone who has walked the same road, you may be able to surround yourself with caring folks who are willing to recognize the truth of your experience and support you as you go.

            Sending warm thoughts,
            Ann

    1. Kathy,

      Thank you. I agree with you–I think that owning our own pain is an important part of decreasing the stigma that surrounds mental health.

      Warmly,
      Ann

  7. Ann,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I can relate to your pain because my wife and I lost a baby at 8 weeks old after years of IVF treatments. We are still trying to have a baby. Someday I hope we can become parents. Thanks again for posting your story.

    Bob

    1. Bob,

      I am so sorry to hear about the struggle and grief that you and your wife have faced. I hope that your dream of parenting is realized. You will remain in my thoughts.

      Warmly,
      Ann

  8. Hi Ann,

    I’m just catching up on my reading and came across this. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability and your experience. I felt pain hearing about your grief. My brother and sister-in-law lost their baby boy in the 9th month. I can’t imagine the pain and sorrow and grief. I’m glad you found your way.

    1. Beth,

      Thank you for your kind words. I had mixed feelings about sharing this story because it is so raw, but I also know that my experience is shared by many, many people. I hope that your brother and sister-in-law are finding peace and comfort as they heal from their loss.

      Warmly,
      Ann

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I imagine this story wasn’t easy for you to post to a blog for the whole world to see. The fact that mental health has become such a taboo topic is one of the things that I think make it so challenging to face. Your openness is inspiring.

    Chelsea
    chelseasimmons.wordpress.com

    1. Chelsea,

      Thank you. I remember saying once that this post made me feel naked. But, the reality is, even psychologists aren’t exempt from suffering. Pretending otherwise, and pretending that we don’t need support at times, feels dishonest to me–and seems to further the stigma of getting help. I appreciate your comment.

      Warmly,
      Ann

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