PPPSS News & Events

Keeping the light despite Seasonal Affective Disorder

People in the Lower Mainland are soaking up the sun this summer, but those with Seasonal Affective Disorder are already dreading the winter months.
Once the longest day of the year has passed in June, those suffering from SAD keep watch as the night comes earlier and earlier. It isn’t something most of us consider –the summer heat seems so distant from the cold and dark of the end of the year. But those whose energy is sapped by the loss of light are constantly aware of the change.
It is even harder for those who are also dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety, the conditions overlapping and making life doubly difficult.
So what can we do, when the chill of winter-to-come hits us in July? How can we conserve our energy and prepare for the dark?
We can practice holding on to the light, both literally and metaphorically. We can walk in the sun whenever possible, play with our kids as the light dances in the leaves above us. We can use the light around us now to carry us through the fall and winter. Here are a few tips on how to do that:
1) Soak up the sun. Get outside, even on days where it feels too difficult. Make it the one thing you do for yourself, when postpartum depression is telling you to hide away inside. Go outdoors one day, and then the next, until your body is full of fresh air and graced with light.
2) Swallow the sun. Whether or not you can make it outside every day, you can still boost your Vitamin D levels. It’s something we West Coasters sorely lack, and Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Check with your doctor about which type is best for you and take it daily, even in the summer.
3) Fake the sun. Once the dreary days hit, a light box might help you hold on to summer’s glow. Doctors and counsellors can recommend something that might work best for you but basically, light boxes help you hang on to the healthier aspects of sunlight and carry you through the dark.
4) Get talking. There are many therapies that can ease the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and your doctor can suggest the right kind for your circumstances. For some people, cognitive behavioural therapy has proven very helpful. But go with whatever works best for you. Talk therapy and support groups can be helpful with Seasonal Affective Disorder and postpartum depression and anxiety. The Pacific Post Partum Support Society is a good place to turn to, when the two overlap.
5) Create comfort. West Coasters aren’t the only people who have to contend with a profound loss of light for much of the year. Northern Europeans, from Norway to Denmark, watch wistfully as the sunlight leaves them behind for months at a time. But they have something we don’t – the concept of coziness embedded right in their culture. Koselig and hygge have become popular worldwide, but those of us in the Lower Mainland have even more reason to embrace the philosophy behind them. Though it seems like the wrong time for it, you can start during the summer. Add elements to your home that bring you joy, from figurines to a handmade throw rug in the kitchen. And take care of yourself – feed yourself well and get the best sleep possible.
There are many ways you can begin to manage Seasonal Affective Disorder now, when you have more energy than your winter self. And some of the methods of creating light in the darkness may also help lift the darkness of postpartum depression and anxiety, as well. Whatever methods you try, do your best to stay in the moment, enjoying the light and the warmth when you can.

Birthday Milestones

My second baby turns one today and it’s a big deal. First birthdays carry so much weight. With my son, whose first birthday feels like aeons ago, I was coming face to face with the anniversary of becoming a mother. With him, I always commemorate the biggest of transformations–his birth made me a mother, and the journey I embarked on the day his tiny feet touched the earth for the first time brought me to my knees. I was battered and worn and turned inside out by the intensity of love and anxiety and depression. In the years after his birth I was slowly reconfigured, built back up into the person I am today. I wear motherhood much more easily now. Being a mother has become fundamental to who I am. It no longer feels like an ill-fitting coat, hanging loosely off the skeletal frame of my former self. Today motherhood is in my body. It is in the bones of my back that sometimes aches from carrying my baby, it’s in the slight softness of my belly where my two children grew, it’s in my ragged cuticles that always carry the damage of my enduring anxiety.

My second baby turns one today and I survived the first postpartum year. I not only survived, but thrived in a way that I never did after my son was born. There’s a joy in this, and a sadness too, because I can see what I was deprived of the first time and there’s still room for the creeping guilt that insists my mental illness harmed my son in invisible and pernicious ways. I wait still, with bated breath, for my son to show the effects of my own dark early motherhood. When behavioural issues erupt, when he seems to be struggling, I wonder still if this is my fault. The demons of postpartum depression are not easily exorcised, and they still dog me.

As my daughter turns one I see what it is like to inhabit motherhood with relative ease. I have these AHA moments where I realize that when other mothers spoke of their joy and delight, they were experiencing something real, something stolen from me by PPD/A. I also see that it’s never too late to recover that joy. While my emerging family  had a rocky start we are enjoying a renaissance now. My boy is an energetic, confident, hilarious wild child. My daughter is a inquisitive, focused, and chatty toddler. I cherish these early days with my daughter so much more for having suffered postpartum mental illness. I know what a gift the joy is. I know how deep the darkness can be. I take nothing for granted.

My own birthday was just a few days ago as well. My son came running downstairs on my birthday with a card. Inside he had drawn a huge row of houses representing our co-op and a picture of our family of four, all of us smiling. There’s a flower in the background. He writes “Happy Birthday Mommy…I never want us to be apart. I hope you never get hurt.” I tear up because I know that my job is to send him out into the world one day, yet my own birthday wishes are similar: I hope that my children and I will always be close, no matter what physical distance separates us. I hope that we are spared the worst of life’s possible tragedies because I know that run of the mill sorrow is big enough. My mother-self was born of a great despair and the greatest gift I have been able to give myself, and my children, is the strength to overcome. I know this will serve me well going forward.

My last baby turns one today and I am filled with gratitude and remembering. I never thought I would get to the point where I might mourn the passing of infancy. I wished away so much of my son’s baby years. With  my daughter I want to hold on. I won’t be making this specific journey again. No more babies, no more soft infant cuddles, no more first words or first teeth. The whole thing seemed so impossible the first time around, but this time I am seeing how fleeting it all is. The days are long, but the years are short. It’s not something that seems true as a first time mother who is struggling to survive, and I know that I didn’t want to listen to the hard earned wisdom of those mothers who had traveled the road before me, but it’s true. The time will drag as if  you’re mired in quicksand then suddenly it will move swiftly, sometimes verging on the power of a rip-tide.

Children mark time in such a profound way. They change dramatically as each year comes to a close and they make the transformative power if time visible. I see imprinted on them both the marks of motherhood and family. They are mirrors showing me my own journey, and they are arrows flying away from me every moment.

What I can say to you, those who are fighting through the brambles of postpartum mental illness, is that one day you will feel whole again. It seems impossible when you’re living at your breaking point, but I promise that as the years go by there will come a time when motherhood becomes integrated into your being rather than being something you rail against. I didn’t believe it, and you probably don’t either, but I promise you that it’s true. On my daughter’s birthday I stroke her soft baby hair and squeeze her perfect chubby body tight, and feel that wholeness as the greatest gift one could ever possess. And from that wholeness I can make a gift of my own self. There is finally enough of me left over to give away. And one day there will be for you too.

Vacationing with postpartum depression

It’s definitely not the travel companion you want. It drains your energy, gets in the way, and makes you miserable. But still, it happens – some of us are bringing postpartum depression and anxiety on our family vacation.

It’s not like we have a choice. Depression and anxiety do not know how to take the hint and get lost.

Not only are we carrying our mental illnesses along with our baggage, but we have to bring our kids, too. Our families are wonderful, and we love them. But traveling with children is a challenge.

Family vacations are utterly different from pre-kid vacations. Pre-kid vacations were fun, they were relaxing, and late nights meant late mornings.

Not so, family vacations. While there are moments of fun, there are also moments of bickering, stress and exhaustion. Late nights – because someone is homesick, physically sick, or jumping on the bed – fade mercilessly into early mornings when it all starts again.

There are many reasons to travel with our families, such as visiting other family members, expanding our horizons, and showing our children the world. But there is nothing easy about it, whether it’s a road trip or a transcontinental flight.

The whole experience is that much harder for those experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety.

While leaving the house with postpartum depression often feels incredibly difficult, travel can feel impossible. Whether it’s sorting out reservations, arranging plane and car travel, or simply forcing a smile for your children, it is an enormous task.

There are ways to cope, however:

• Plan ahead – Work out contingency plans with your partner or traveling companion. Another adult can be a great help on the road, and you’ll have someone to give you another perspective on your mental health if the stress gets to be too much.

• Pack your treatments – if you are on medication, make sure your prescriptions are filled. If you see a counsellor, check in with them before you go. Try to maintain your mental health routine as much as possible.

• Take it easy – try not to pack your itinerary full of activities. Know your limits. If you can handle one or two activities a day, keep to that, but slow down if needed.

• Focus on what’s important – you’re there for your family. You’re there to create memories and connect with them, not to see all the sights or buy out every tourist shop. Enjoy yourself as much as possible.

• Try to relax – it may feel like you never get to relax after having a baby, but this might be your chance. If there is a spa attached to your hotel, check out what services you can afford. See what local events are taking place around you – there may be yoga on the beach or tours of area parks. And trade sleep-in days with your partner, so you get the rest you need.

Postpartum depression and anxiety may dull your experiences, but it doesn’t have to take away all the good you have. Eke out what enjoyment you can. Whatever else, get a few decent naps out of the deal. And be gentle with yourself and your family. Travel doesn’t have to be a nightmare, even when you’re struggling with depression and anxiety.

Summer Survival

copyright www.andreapaterson.com

I’m not going to lie–I’m in a pretty big panic right now. I feel worse than I have at any time since my daughter was born. For the most part I’ve avoided postpartum depression and anxiety since my second child was born, but now as summer sets in and everyone is supposed to be relaxing and enjoying the great weather, I feel anxiety clutching at me. My son is off preschool for the summer and there is no child care in sight until Kindergarten starts in September. I’m faced with almost three months of full time mothering. At the same time my daughter is going through some sort of painful nap transition so has gone from an excellent sleeper to a haphazard one. She was awake until 11:30 last night and up again at 6:30. Her once regimented naps are all over the place. My son is acting out due to a lack of scheduling and familiarity. And I. AM. LOSING IT.

Summer isn’t always the blissful time we expect it to be. In my head the summer is long, lazy, sunny days full of fun trips to the beach and the pool. It’s about camping and BBQs and a slower pace of life. Reality doesn’t really match up. So far it’s been tantrums and missed naps and boredom and desperation. Having a baby who needs naps makes going on outings challenging but we go stir crazy staying at home all the time. My house is a mess and I’ve gone from getting a daily break while my daughter napped and my son went to preschool to  having a child with me every moment.

Summer can be scary, because while we expect it to be a season of self care, sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes it triggers a relapse in mental health struggles that you thought were long ago put to rest. It can help to know that it’s not only you. You’re not the only person who can’t seem to find their footing when you wake up on the first day of summer vacation.

It might be time to get back to basics. Commiserate with those other parents looking sodden and sunburned at the water park. Carve out some time to be alone. Plan activities that feel manageable to you, even if that means staying pretty close to home. I have to remind myself again and again that my son can have a wonderful day even if we don’t have some major summer adventure. Summer can be an opportunity for mindfulness–enjoying the flavour of a local strawberry, lying in the grass, lounging on a patio. And if all else fails know that September isn’t too far away. You’ll get there. You’ll make it. You’ve got this.

Taking Pride as LGBTQ+ parents

Happy Family by Bob Jagendorf

Pride Month brings to mind how much lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, and two-spirit families have accomplished, how far they’ve come, and how much there is to be celebrated.

But, of course, it’s not all rainbows for LGBTQ+ parents and prospective parents who live in places where rainbow crosswalks are vandalized, where they are threatened or even assaulted, and where support for their families often comes as an afterthought to straight families.

Same sex parents in BC were the first in Canada to be able to adopt children together, but even today they still have to jump through a tremendous amount of hoops to do so.

The legalization of same sex marriage in Canada has helped, of course, but even that has not ended the poor treatment and bigotry some parents, and their children, face.

It is easier to parent as a LGBTQ+ person these days, but it definitely isn’t easy.

So while there is plenty to celebrate this month, and at Pride festivals throughout the Lower Mainland later this summer, there is also room for improvement when it comes to welcoming and embracing LGBTQ+ parents into our parenting communities.

The Pacific Post Partum Society helps families who are experiencing postpartum mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, issues dealt with by many parents, including lesbian mothers, bi fathers, and anyone else in the LGBTQ+ community.

The early days of parenting bring on added stressors for everyone, from lack of sleep to social isolation. Gay fathers may be dealing with the sudden arrival of their adopted or surrogate child, as well as a lack of resources to help them adjust. Trans parents may deal with the hormonal fallout from childbirth, along with a lack of support from their own families.

LGBTQ+ parents need help, support, and a place to share their story, just like every other parent. Luckily, there are places in Vancouver and throughout the region where they can do just that.

There is a local Facebook group, Queer Families of Vancouver, for those who want to connect online.

For prospective and new parents, the Strathcona Midwifery Collective hosts the Queer and Trans Pregnancy and Parenting Group, which includes a closed Facebook group as well as in-person meetings.

Qmunity in Vancouver hosts Rainbow Families, a group for LGBTQ parents and kids, which meets at different events and locations in the Lower Mainland on the first Saturday of every month.

And there is the Pacific Post Partum Society, for everyone struggling with being a new parent. There is the support line, which runs from Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Vancouver area number is 604-255-7999, and the toll-free number is 855-255-7999.

PPPSS offers telephone support for dads, non-birthing parents, family members and anyone dealing with stress after the birth or adoption of a baby.

PPPSS also offers support groups for mothers, and partner sessions are available periodically. Please call 604-255-7999 for more information.
Hopefully, in the future we can all take pride in the support we give to LGBTQ+ families in our communities.