Sisterhood Spotlight – More Love Letters

The Weather Vane Sisterhood is no stranger to mental illness – we have that badge in the bag and we wear it for all to see. We don’t hide our crazy, we advocate.

A little while ago during one of Julia’s bouts of PPD, I was trying to find a way to make her feel more loved, and supported from our family. That is when I came across More Love Letters.

Their mission as it is posted on their website is simple – to make love famous. Imagine going through a rough patch, anything from a sick family member, to depression or PPD if you will. Now imagine while you are going through this tough time getting a flooding of love letters. Letters of encouragement, letters of hope. Just a little note to let you know that you are not going through this alone, and a complete stranger is thinking of you. That is exactly what More Love Letters is.

It is a blog where weekly posts let the anyone who wants to know who they should address love letters to and their background story. You can nominate anyone as well – all you need is to take the time to write an email or a letter to the ladies of More Love Letters and tell them why you think they deserve more love! Once you see who needs your love letters it’s up to you to write what your heart desires. As of late I when I have been feeling down, I write what I would want someone to say to me. Something as cheesy as “Don’t stop believing” to more sentimental. There is something so uplifting by telling a complete stranger that you are in their corner and something so heartwarming knowing that you made someone’s life a little brighter with your words.

After writing all my thank you cards, I still have some umpteen note cards left. These cards as slowly being sent all over the world with notes of love and support. I encourage everyone to join this movement and start sending love letters.

The world is a pretty crappy place sometimes. It’s scary and dark, and sometimes it’s hard to find the love and light in the everyday. But if you can be that love and light to someone else then suddenly you have a little slice of optimism yourself.

The other day I was exhausted, it was a horrible day at work and all I wanted to do was to come home and sleep. On my walk home I had made a plan, home, bath, bed. Which is exactly what I did. I came home, drew myself a bath, and then got into my pj’s. I turned on my computer to watch some much deserved Netflix, but when I opened my computer, the last page I was on was More Love Letters to their recent letter nominations. I came across a nomination for a couple who had been together for 36 years. They fell on hard times with their health, he with a stroke and her with lupus. Their children nominated them for the bundle of letters. Suddenly I felt guilty – I had a rough day sure, but I have my health, I have a roof over my head and food on the table – and yet I was grumpy and complaining.

I decided then to write a letter to this couple. I wrote telling them that their love for each other and their years of marriage was an inspiration. I wrote to them telling them I was thinking of them and sending them love from afar during this bump in the road. My problem of a bad day at work seemed so small and insignificant compared to the troubles that these two were going through.

I encourage you to take time today to write a love letter to those in need – make it a weekly routine. During your Saturday morning coffee, grab a pen and a pad of paper and start spreading the love!

~ Love, Jacqui

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I don’t always have good days, but since being back they have been more frequent, which is nice.
1My one counselor told me to find something that puts a smile on my face and make it a part of me.
2One of those things for me are inspirational sayings.

They’re little sayings usually on photos that capture your eye, and quotes that can spur you forward.
3Every once in a while I need these little signs to help me and give me an up.
4I do my best, but I feel like it is never good enough.

I feel like it isn’t going to get better.
5But wait, the universe is vast, so vast we literally don’t know what it all is or what makes it all up. We don’t.
6I know I can do this, and these little things and sayings in my life help and give me some form of peace, even if it’s only for a little while.
Inspirational
~ Andreah

I wanna talk! You should wanna talk too!

Our family is no stranger to mental health. Julia tells her truth over and over, and she will continue to tell it. She is talking! I love that she talks!

Today I want to tell you about some other truths – I want to talk.

Let’s talk about a co-worker, no she is more than that, a friend who had a horrible weekend. Why? Because her boyfriend’s best friend is currently watching over his ex-girlfriend, a mother of two in the hospital because she tried to take her life and is now brain dead. It affects us all.

Let’s talk about a sister who has battled PPD three times running. Let’s talk about those who still to this day criticize the actions of mothers who just need help to make it through, whatever help that may be.

Let’s talk about a father who battled depression so deep he locked himself in his room away from his family to try and battle it all by himself. It affects us all.

Let’s talk about over 19 million people affected by anxiety disorders. I personally know five of them.

Let’s talk.

Let’s remove the stigma.

I wanna talk! Today tweet, retweet, blog, Facebook bring attention to mental illness and mental health! Let’s make today more successful than it was last year! Let’s continue to talk about it.

This shouldn’t be a one-day topic, this should be an everyday topic. Today is Bell Let’s Talk day.

For my sister, my friend, and my father – LET’S TALK!!!!!!!!

~ Jacqui

Let’s talk.

The Sisterhood is pro-mental health, as everyone should be.

Mental illness affects everyone.

Mental health is imperative for everyone.

Tomorrow, every time you tweet, include the hashtag #BellLetsTalk – 5¢ will be donated to mental health education.

When you’re on Facebook tomorrow, share images from the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook page – 5¢ will be donated to mental health support.

If you’re on the Bell network (in Canada), every time you make a call, local or long distance, or send out a text tomorrow, 5¢ will be donated towards stopping the stigma surrounding mental illness and starting a conversation about the part you can play in universal mental health.

bell_lavie

January 28 is Bell Let’s Talk Day. Let’s talk. 

~ The Sisterhood

I didn’t know

I’ve adopted a mantra in recent years, brought about by my mental health journey and my miscarriage heartache, and my living a small life full of big joy as a stay-at-home mom: Tell your truth. Tell it all, no matter how hard, awkward, painful, or real.

It’s a scary mantra, for sure, and is not for the faint of heart. I know many a mother, all strong, incredible women, who refuse to admit to more than a select few of their journey with mental illness or miscarriage or hardship. That talking about their truth is scarier than the truth itself. That kind of quiet, though, doesn’t work for me. And so, for me, I tell my truth.

I talk about dark days and low lows. I talk about broken brains and medicated pregnancies. I talk about dead babies and wide chasms of grief. I talk about rough patches and the fight of marriage. I talk. I talk. I talk.

I’m certain there are people who wish, sometimes or all the times, that I’d just shut up. (Sometimes I am those people.)

I also know, though, that there are people who have felt a relief that I’m a truth-sharer. That it gives them licence to share their truth – with me, with their doctor, with their partner, with themselves (sometimes, the hardest of all truth-sharing). That it gives them hope because they are not alone in their scary truth. That they are not crazy. And if they are crazy, then there’s hope because other crazy people walk among us and are living seemingly regular lives. (Note I didn’t say normal lives…there is no hope for that, let me tell you! 😉 .)

In keeping with my truth telling, I have another confession for you: I am suffering weaning depression. 

I didn’t even know such a thing existed.

I know tons about PPD and PPMD, about how they are jerks and liars and life-taker-overs, and how you have to be mega strong to fight and win over them, but that winning is possible and that having more babies after them is possible (See?! CRAZY.) and that life after is possible.

But weaning depression? Really?!

Things have been kind of ridiculous at the Mills’ house lately. A little over a week ago, I cut this guy off from my boobs:

Noodle night, anyone?

Noodle night, anyone?

And it wasn’t as hard as we had feared. And it wasn’t as tricky as it seemed. And in magical turn of events, he sleeps through the night now for the first time in 15 MONTHS. 

Guys, we won the lottery. I weaned Isaac at 15 months and there was uninterrupted sleep waiting for me as a prize. KICKASS.

But then? Then? Then I started to fall apart.

As in, the past week and a bit have been brutal. And crap.

Of course, there’s the sore boob problem. The we’re-still-making-milk-what-the-hell-are-you-doing problem. The we-look-like-we’re-surgically-enhanced problem. The if-Ben-so-much-as-looks-at-me-the-wrong-way-he’s-dead problem. They really, really hurt. I think I’m turning a corner with this, but I can’t be sure because I can’t think straight because MY BOOBS HURT. (Cue all the people who’d wish I’d shut up…it’s okay, I get it. And I still love you.)

But there’s this other problem that I don’t remember happening with Sophie or Lillian’s weaning: depression-like symptoms, rearing their ugly heads, as if I had never fought them and beat them all those months ago. As if I weren’t still medicated. As if I weren’t still working all of the steps and tools and processes that saved my life and continues to save my life today.

As if.

I feel like I’m itching in my skin again – I can’t sit still, yet I can’t do anything because everything is overwhelming and hard again. I want to scream at the babies all the time even though the hijinks and antics they’re pulling don’t bring me to my knees anymore. I want to run away from home and become a writer and a crafter and a knitter and an anything-but-stay-at-home-mom-er. I want to eat all the chocolate and butter and bread the world has to offer (Read: bring me a piece of buttered toast slathered in Nutella and you can pretty much have whatever you want). I want to eat nothing because I’m tired and I don’t want to cook or prep or clean. I want to sleep until there is no more sleep to be had. I hate sleeping because I’m having trouble falling into it and staying in it (cruel irony, here – the moment I’m given full nights of sleep is the moment I lose the ability to sleep.)

I’m struggling. And I hate it.

At first I thought I was crazier than normal, like my period was on its way (SHUT UP, JULIA!) and I was PMSing (apparently, symptoms after weaning can feel like a brutal case of PMS). And then I thought I might be pregnant (I took two tests…no fourth miracle post-tubal-ligation baby for us!). And then I decided to Safe Google (i.e. not random googling, educated googling – I went to sites that I knew did less panic-inciting and more researching and educating).

Weaning depression has not been documented in many studies, but it has a lot of anecdotal evidence behind it. Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress mentions it on her blog and states that through her years of running her website she has “heard from many women whose postpartum experiences were just fine until they stopped breastfeeding.” The Perinatal Mood Disorder Awareness website also covers this topic, saying that “a large percentage of Moms report experiencing mood changes related to weaning, and some Moms dip into full blown depression after weaning their babies.” I also found some fellow truth-tellers (like her, her and them), who bravely shared their stories and gave me hope that I’m not simply crazy and that there are other survivors out there.

I sit here stunned. Stunned that this crappy brain of mine is giving me a crappy experience again. That the life I was kicking ass at is crumbling a little again. That my ability to handle things with little-to-no help has all but disappeared and I’m left reaching out my hand to Ben, asking him to forgive the anger and crazy that’s pouring out of my mouth all the while begging him to let me lean on him (he said yes, by the way…because he’s awesome…and a life saver).

I didn’t know this existed. Had no idea.

But, now, it’s part of my journey. It’s part of my truth. And it is in this vein, this spirit that I share this with you, even the ones that wish I’d stop being an oversharer already.

Feeling low after weaning happens to a lot of women. There is a theory that it is related to the dropping levels of oxytocin, the happy-hormone that is at an all-time high while breastfeeding. The low can feel as awful as a mega bout of PMS or as bad as depression. It should be treated with grace and seriousness and help, as all mental health issues should be.

And it’s happening to me.

If you are experiencing this, or have experienced this and didn’t know what it was, or are thinking about having babies or breastfeeding babies, or if you know someone who has boobs who might use them one day to feed their babies, I’m sharing my truth in hopes that it will lend relief, understanding, and support to the person who feels lost and needs it, just as those brave women that I found as I Safe Googled my way through yet another gift of motherhood. I’m hanging in there, so have other women, and so can you.

~ Julia

Bad citizen

I have an anxiety disorder.

Yes, yes I am.

Yes, yes I am.

This means that I am an exemplary worrier, fretter, and all around ball of nerves. It also means that I’m medicated and that I’ve done years of therapy to manage the crazy in my head, because while pills definitely help, I need to be in charge of the runaway train of fear or it will definitely be in charge of me.

Simply put, I’m the queen of inflating any situation into a hypothetical nightmare. For example, if Ben is late getting home from work, I immediately envision him dead, I start freaking out about being a single parent, a widow, and the fact that I have to plan a funeral, get a job, and deal with everything forever by myself.

Welcome to my world, Ron.

Welcome to my world, Ron.

It also means that I have to be very careful, selective, and downright anal about what I consume mentally. Television shows, books, movies, even conversations, all have to be carefully monitored and I have to be ready to turn them off, shut my eyes, or leave the room if things get too dicey.

It’s a key to my self-care and my mental health, but in truth, it makes me a crappy citizen because the very tragedies that draw people closer, bring people together around water coolers and Facebook posts and Twitter feeds, are the poison that will derail my control over my nutty brain. For me, watching the news, reading online articles, following comment threads, delving into the gory details of an accident, a homicide, a plane crash, a suicide, a child molestation/abuse court case can make it too easy to go down the rabbit hole of the worst (and least realistic in my life) what-ifs out there.

This past week we had two tragedies in Canada involving our soldiers, where two servicemen, on our own soil, were killed with no war or battle or extremist circumstance near them. This is the stuff that makes our nation stand up, show solidarity, and inspires people to line the overpasses of highways to give a fallen soldier a hero’s return home.

So moving and fitting.

So moving and fitting.

It’s also the stuff that makes me curtail my online prowling and consuming so that I only view or read on the periphery, the barest of details, and avoid the in-depth commentary, the poetic waxing on the soldier’s sad dogs or grief-stricken little boy, and the replay of the security footage leading up to and including the murders. It makes me hide when everyone else is seeking insight and discussing the situation at every opportunity.

It gets even harder when something happens involving someone famous. Celebrities these days are uber accessible and prominent, and that makes any horrific or prolific situation involving them feel like it’s happening to someone we know. When Robin Williams died from suicide, I had to shut down my social media consumption extensively – everyone was talking about it, retweeting it, Facebook posting it, sharing and becoming a community of mourners. I had to halt the thoughts of how awful it must have been for him, how awful it must be for his family and friends, because had I continued to think about all of the horribleness of the situation, I probably would have found myself immobilized by a grief that wasn’t mine in the first place, or worse, in a position of wondering where my life fit on his spectrum for what’s unbearable and what I can live through. It’s a dangerous, dangerous thing for me.

And I’m not alone. This ‘don’t invite scary thoughts in your head’ tactic is used by many, many people who suffer from mental illness. It’s the first thing on the list of things to avoid when you’re suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety by Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress, the world’s most widely-read blog on mental illness related to pregnancy and child birth. The Calm Clinic, an online blog specializing in anxiety disorders, states clearly that you should minimize your exposure to anxiety stimuli. What is more anxiety-filled than the evening news?

People are often surprised that I don’t know about current events, like the Ebola virus, or what the status is on those poor girls who were kidnapped, or the current war being fought. I’m a smart person. And I thrive on researching things (I’m the queen of googling). But when it comes to scary things beyond my control, things that will just worry me and fill me with paralyzing fear, things that I don’t have to deal with right now, or probably ever, I simply don’t think about them. I don’t learn about them. I don’t read, comment, write, or discuss them. Because at the end of the day, even if I am a bad citizen, at least I’m a healthy Julia, and that I can control.

~ Julia

A moment

It’s a sad day for the family, friends, and fans of Robin Williams, who died of suicide.

Robin Williams

We’re taking a moment to dedicate this space to reminding everyone that mental illness, although seemingly invisible, is a real threat, a heartless liar, and a life ruiner.

If you feel like you are out of options, that you can’t go on, that there is no hope, please reach out to a loved one, your doctor, or by using one of these crisis supports:

US/Canada Crisis Hotline – 1-800-273-TALK 

Canadian Crisis Centres – http://suicideprevention.ca/thinking-about-suicide/find-a-crisis-centre/

Call 9-1-1 – if you have a plan, have supplies, and feel like you are a danger to yourself or others

You are worth so much more than your brain is telling you. You are incredible, valuable, strong, smart, and can beat this. Please don’t give up. Please get help.

~ The Sisterhood

How I’m doing

It’s been quite a few months since I came out as suffering from a postpartum mood disorder (PPMD/PPD) and I was thinking it might be a good idea to let you know how I’m doing.

I am doing really, really well.

In terms of the PPMD/PPD, I’m completely recovered. I don’t have a foggy brain anymore, I’m not anxious and overwhelmed anymore, I’m not flying off the handle with blind rage anymore. I’m controlled. I’m confident in my parenting. I’m taking care of myself. And I am actually thriving as a person, instead of drowning.

I am doing really, really well.

Of course, there was no magic pill or instant cure, there was no lightbulb moment that changed everything, but there was hard work and lots of help. And I wanted to share with you what fueled my success this time.

I stayed medicated. This is controversial, in that I was medicated all throughout my pregnancy with Isaac and even bumped my medication up at the end of my pregnancy. It’s controversial because it means Isaac went through withdrawal when he was born and was at a tiny (read: minuscule) risk for birth defects. But the risk of me committing suicide or hurting myself or my babies or landing myself into a mental hospital were all severely high if I had stopped taking my medication. I have been medicated since after Lillian was born and still am to this day. Will I be medicated for the rest of my life? I have no idea, but at this point it’s working and that’s all that matters.

I asked for help. It’s tough admitting you don’t have it all together. It’s even harder when you did have it together at the beginning and now it’s starting to crumble months after your baby is born. Especially because up until my confession in February, I had been the poster girl for what to do when you have a history of mental illness and you want more children. I encapsulated my placenta and took it as prescribed (no, really). I stayed medicated. I put supports in place for the first six weeks after birth to ensure I healed properly from my scheduled C-section. I got rest. I didn’t act like a hero. My house fell into even further disarray and I was okay with it. I did everything RIGHTAnd yet, everything still fell apart. Asking for help was eating humble pie and accepting that even though we do everything the way we’re “supposed to,” things can still fall spectacularly apart. But I did it. I asked for help. I called my therapist and got an appointment that week. I was told by Toni and Jacqui that I would be getting help from Toni, and I accepted it. Let the leaning and the healing begin.

I remembered what I had learned. I joked when I got to therapy that I was going for my PhD in PPD…that I had been here twice before, that this was my third time, and by the time this was done I would be set for life. Full of PPD knowledge. You know, it turned out to be true. I remembered what I needed to do. I remembered the importance of self-care and how vital it was to my past recovery. I remembered that sleep was a key component to getting through the day in one piece. I remembered that I had to take things one excruciating step at a time, not rush through or jump from step 1 to step 74398574. I remembered that it was a journey full of peaks and valleys. I remembered that the Julia that I remembered from before babies, before the first two rounds of PPD, before the miscarriage, before this moment would come back, that she wasn’t lost for good, that she still existed. And I remembered I had to trust the process, not jump ship just because it wasn’t working. My therapist told me that this would be my shortest journey through PPD. The first round was seven months with no help. The second round was five months with medication and therapy. This round was just shy of four months. She was right. My quickest yet. PhD in the BAG!

I exercised my tushy off. No, literally. I’m 30 pounds lighter than when I started this journey. Exercising, whether bootcamp with my sisters, hiking at ridiculous o’clock, or finding my zen in running, became an integral part of my recovery. It’s no wonder – exercise gives you endorphins; endorphins make you happy; happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.

Or maybe it’s something more like this (although I will argue that the above is COMPLETELY valid):

Exercise-is-better-than-antidepressants

I feel it when I don’t exercise – the anxiety, the irritability, the brain that won’t shut up, the anger that’s bubbling far too close to the surface. And I feel it when I do – the power that exists in me, the calm that comes from achieving something so simple yet hard, the brain break because all I can do is concentrate on my breathing when I run alone, or the friend/sister-therapy that comes from running with others. It is the thing that is gluing me together. It has replaced chocolate and mindless eating. It has replaced napping and hiding. It is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Period.

I am kind to myself. There are bad days. There are days when I feel like I’m not a great mom…or maybe not even a good mom. There are days when I feel like there’s no way I’ll ever be able to accomplish all the things I need to do…days when Isaac is screaming and Lillian is pooping on the floor and Sophie is late for school and we haven’t even left yet. These are the days I practice being kind to myself, not shaming myself. I don’t berate me for not having it all together (i.e. no poop, no screaming, on time school kid). I don’t sit there and fume and fight with the babies who only dig their heels in more when you rush them. I don’t let it ruin the whole day. I accept my fate in that moment (we are going to be late). I remind myself that no one is dying, that this is by far not the worst situation, that I’m normal and this is nuts and it’s hard because it’s hard, not because I’m failing.

Life is hard. Not because we're doing it wrong, just because it's hard.

Glennon Doyle Melton (Way-back-play-back because I LOVE this quote so much.)

I have a village. There is no supporting cast as important as the village that helps you raise your babies. It is the thing that we turn to when we have a question, want perspective, or need an ear to just listen and then respond with, “I get it. You’re not alone.” In one of my earliest therapy sessions, my counselor said that I needed to create a village for myself, that without it I would be eternally lost. And she’s right. My village is HUGE and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Shout-outs go to The Mothers, both Ben’s and mine, for loving us and our babies, for providing second homes and soft places to land when things get out of hand, for hugging and listening and never judging. Props over to my sisters, my soulmates, the people that God saw fit to put in my permanent family, especially my nanny Toni, my dopelanger-in-spirit Jacqui, and Kim, my sister-in-broken-brainedness. To my dear broken brain friends, both past and present, thank you for never letting me feel crazy…but rather, helping me feel normal. To my kindred spirit Laura, for crafting with me, praying for me, and listening to me – love you! And to the ladies of the drop-off brigade – Heather, Bethany, Andrea, Michele, and Danika – without you holding Lillian’s hands, being second moms to Sophie, sharing in the school experience, this anxiety-ridden gal would have no friends at school. Thank you thank you thank you.

I have Ben. Beyond the village, you also need a good man in a storm. Ben is that good man. He watched me sob on the couch as I worried they would take away our babies and lock me up when I confessed to the third bout of PPD. He held me and told me we’d do whatever it took to get better. He never left me, even when I was being an asshole to him (PPD brings out the worst in people). He never blamed me, even though I felt like every crappy moment was my fault (I own the brain, ergo…). He has never stopped loving me, even when I made it impossible for him to love me. He let me run. He gave me time to regroup. He’s taken 50% of the night feeds since the 7-week mark. He is awesome. And to top it all off – he’s a great dad to our crazy kids. To the moms who are fighting this alone, I don’t know how you’re doing it. You are my heroes, because this is hard and hellish with a partner…without one, you must be made of steel or something. Seriously. I bow to you.

To the moms who are still fighting – don’t lose hope. I got my PhD. I survived my third round. I’m a confident, well-adjusted (most days) mom of three kids. I am still here, better, stronger, more vivid than I was before, and you will be too. Promise.

Babies and Mama

~ Julia

 

Clara’s Big Rest

We’ve already admitted that the Sisterhood has a HUGE girl crush on Olympian Clara Hughes. And we’ve all been watching her ride across Canada to raise awareness for mental health. But today we’d like to thank her.

Thank you for 11,000 km of bike riding to show your commitment to fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Thank you for 110 days away from your home to speak to other people in their homes, to talk about something that should never be a secret or hidden.

Thank you for meeting with 105 communities to discuss mental health issues, their effect on people’s lives, and what we can do to help.

Clara's Big Ride - community

 

Thank you for being awesome. For being strong. And for talking.

You’re a rock star, Clara Hughes. A bonafide rock star.

~ Weather Vane Sisterhood

*To find out how YOU can help, check out the Bell Let’s Talk website. And seriously – let’s talk. 

Sisterhood Spotlight: Greatist.com

When it comes to finding support for leading a healthy lifestyle, it’s hard to find a reliable source that isn’t pushing their own agenda or selling their own brand of get-fit-quick propaganda. While information is accessible everywhere from Google to Pinterest, I’ve come to know and love one particular fitness blog that seems to satisfy all areas of a healthy me – mind, body and soul.

Greatist.com is a blog that covers all areas of living a healthy lifestyle. It’s not focused on being skinny, losing weight, pills, quick fixes or fads. Greatist.com strictly focuses on over all health be it mental, physical or spiritual.

Greatest.com home page, May 23, 2014

Greatest.com home page, May 23, 2014

This specific blog is suited for anyone who is looking to live and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. Every post is vetted to make sure the facts are based on a legitimate scientific study, that they are fun and easy to read, and that the information you are receiving is real. If you are interested in yoga, crossfit, running, healthy recipes, tips on how to manage stress, depression, a bad stroke of luck, tools to train your brain and help you ace that test, or even a daily workout, greatest.com is the site for you.

Personally, I opted in for the daily email – it’s a daily digest of posts containing an array  of topics and I find it a great reminder to get up and do something physically active, everyday (yes, even though today’s daily email was about drinking…).

The daily email - May 23, 2014

The daily email – May 23, 2014

I recommend greatest.com to anyone looking for tips, tricks and support on their journey of improving their overall health – you won’t be disappointed!

Happy, happy Friday from the Sisterhood!

~Toni