October 17, 2016

It doesn't matter if you are expecting, planning on expecting, maybe one day expecting in the distant future, or don't want to have children at all.  This post is for everyone because postpartum depression impacts SO MANY OF US, & even if it won't happen to YOU, it may happen to someone you know & the best way to help that person is to UNDERSTAND what is happening.  Postpartum depression is actually a serious, sometimes life-threatening malady, so DON'T take this lightly!  I know this is not writing-related, but it's a big deal for me & I know others have faced or may face this obstacle.  I want to help.

naysaying the naysayer

IF YOU ARE EXPECTING this may sound like I'm assuming that you will have postpartum depression (PPD), & I'm just a huge pessimist, raining on your baby-bliss parade.  This is 100% not the case.  It is unfortunately very common, & very likely, that a new mother will experience such a wild crash in hormones post-delivery, that it results in PPD.  You can't MAKE yourself not have it if your hormones DO crash, just like you can't MAKE your heart start or stop, or MAKE your stomach not digest food.  I am not a party-pooper!  I want you to know that PPD is something to anticipate & prepare for, because you can't stop it just be sheer will.  This is out of your control.

IF PEOPLE SAY YOU DON'T HAVE PPD do NOT, under any circumstances, believe them!  Your hormones are in your own body, your thoughts are in your brain - you know something isn't right.  No one else can feel your emotions for you.  You are the judge.

(i have been told off-handedly in the past that i was not depressed. it was not from a doctor, it was not after even a moment of reflection or time spent listening to my symptoms.  this hurts.  this kind of response is unfortunately tailor-made to COMPOUND the emotional issues, not create a support which could further your road to recovery.  so folks, if a mother tells you she is depressed, NEVER, EVER, EVER SAY SHE'S NOT.)

NOTE || "baby blues" & PPD are NOT the same thing. "Baby blues" are a usual phenomenon when your hormones naturally go berserk for a few days or a week after expelling the baby.  Your body was chockablock with hormones during pregnancy, & now it's trying to reset for a new phase.  Hormones are not the bee's knees & nothing they do is very friendly, but "baby blues" should pass in a few days.

(not exhaustive list of) postpartum depression & anxiety symptoms

There are many expressions of PPD & postpartum anxiety.  You may experience one, two, four, five...& qualify for the diagnosis: you don't have to have ALL the symptoms - this isn't Pokemon.  I'm going to highlight some that I had to deal with, but know that there are more.

THE INADEQUACY TERROR  ||  I vividly recall trying to breastfeed my daughter early in the morning before one of the grandmothers came to sit with her.  My husband had to leave for work.  I felt I was on the clock.  My daughter wouldn't settle.  She was crying, & I began to scream for my husband & then dissolve into hysterical tears because I believed I COULD NOT DO THIS.  Those words don't fully describe how I felt.

  • i felt i literally, actually, completely, could NOT nurture my daughter
  • i was 100% in terror that someone would come take her away
  • i was deeper-than-the-grave ashamed of my weakness & outburst
  • i thought someone would take my daughter away
  • ditto

THE MORBID TERROR  ||  Another vivid memory, waiting for my husband to come home.  It was winter, it was dark, & time seemed to take longer than it should have.  I began to think something had happened to him.  I began to believe something had happened to him.  I was sure he had crashed & died, & that I would be left the rest of my life to raise our daughter alone.  Do not laugh at this.  This is not like everyday, garden-variety morbid fantasy: this notion latched hold of my brain & would not be shaken loose.  I was a hysterical crying mess by the time my husband arrived - with takeout dinner.

THE FLIGHT DRIVE  ||  Another common expression of PPD, which I felt periodically, was the desire to run away.  There is NO LOGICAL SOLUTION presented by this urge: you just HAVE it.  It can be an urge to run away from your family completely, or (as in my case) to run away with your child.  It can be fueled by irrational panic, or it may simply be a lone but powerful urge suggesting that you NEED TO RUN AWAY.  This is PPD talking.

THE BLACK HOLE IN YOUR CHEST  ||  Probably the first thing people think of when someone mentions depression,  it's that hollow-but-leaden weight in your chest, dragging you down, blacker than my entire wardrobe.  It is an inexplicable, unshakeable, unexpected depression - there is no better word for it: it's more than sadness, it's a crushing of the soul.  The world, like mine, could be full of sunshine, support, & smiles, but all I felt was a deep, dead sorrow.  

THE HARM FANTASIES  ||  This is probably the worst part of PPD that I've experienced.  I was, thank God, never close to succumbing to these thoughts, but I was plagued by sudden, unpremeditated thoughts of throwing my infant daughter over the railing down the steep basement stairs.  I considered cutting myself when my sadness was almost more than I could bear.  These thoughts were never serious for me, thankfully: they were suggestions about contemplating these actions.  But that they cropped up in my brain was terrifying enough!

THE GUILTY SILENCE  ||  None of the above is the expected view of motherhood.  None of it is NICE.  None of it seems HAPPY or CONTENT or GRATEFUL.  As mothers, we're aware that what we're feeling does not match with what we think is expected of us.  What we are feeling terrifies us!  We feel unutterably guilty.  So we shut down.  We close our mouths.  We don't reach out for help.  We tell ourselves we need to "just get over it."  We are afraid

  • people won't understand
  • people will tell us to "buck up"
  • people will think we're crazy
  • people will think we're trying to shirk our maternal duties
  • people will think it's just due to sleep deprivation
  • people will take our children away from us

There is precedent for each one of these to make our fear just that much stronger in our minds.  Mothers have been brushed aside, their struggles consigned to "womanly weakness," they have been judged, censured, & ignored - when their problem is NOT THEM, it's a need for postpartum medical treatment to correct something that is physically wrong & mentally impacting their lives.  Women with PPD

  • are NOT lazy
  • are NOT insane
  • are NOT insensitive mothers
  • are NOT broken

They are flesh-&-blood human beings whose bodies have experienced a catastrophic upset in their critical hormonal balances, & they NEED MEDICAL ATTENTION.

(note: i had both an advantage & an obstacle to face, for my own mother had suffered such severe PPD that she has needed to continue medication to this day. i knew i was at risk & that i needed to look out for symptoms.  AT THE SAME TIME, when the symptoms came, i was afraid they weren't "good" enough, they weren't "critical" enough, that i didn't have the right to claim PPD.  DON'T FALL INTO THIS MENTAL TRAP.  seek help as soon as you notice a continuance in these (or other) symptoms. you are important! never underestimate your struggles because someone else may have it "worse.")


Yes, it is possible you may have PPD.  DO NOT DESPAIR.  Here I am, with the effects of PPD still in my brain, & I'm a survivor.  My daughter is flourishing.  You'd never know, unless I told you, that I have PPD.  Here is what helped me:

FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED  ||  I had the warning.  Being aware that PPD is a possibility does NOT increase your risk of having it.  You either have it or you don't - but knowing about it beforehand & knowing the signs to look out for makes the recovery/correction process SO much easier, quicker, & avoids severe scarring on you & your family.

EXCELLENT DOCTORS & MEDICATION  ||  My doctor is the chillest bomb.com & I am so thankful to God for putting me in her hands.  I was able to discuss with her beforehand my fears of having PPD, & postpartum I was able to go to her with my symptoms, which resulted immediately in an effective anti-depressant prescription (yes, I was still able to breastfeed!).  Never underestimate modern medicine where it has proved effective for so many.  It's cliche, but TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR.  We're dealing with a mental illness that could potentially harm you & your child: BOTH of you deserve the safety of a stable mind & reliable hormone balances!

(note: something that prevented my mother from getting immediate help was the belief that she just needed to "have more faith" & her emotions would go away.  this is a lie.  this is a damnable lie.  i thank the Lord that we HAVE a medical body that offers us effective medicine for actual, physical problems like PPD.  it's not a "lack of faith," it's a physical illness expressing itself through the mind.  you can't just get over it.  you can't just pray it away.  God has graciously given us a means of correcting the issue: take advantage of that!)

SUPPORT SYSTEM  ||  My husband & I live in the same city as my parents, his parents, & my brother + sister-in-law.  We get together frequently throughout the week.  We have gone to the same church for as long as I've been alive.  In short, I HAVE PEOPLE TO DEPEND ON.  This is an enormous benefit for the mother suffering PPD.  One of the worst things you can do if you have PPD is to shut yourself up in your own mind & try to "take care of things" yourself.  You CAN'T.  You are actually, physically ill: you need support & clear minds to help guide you.

note for mothers: if you don't have a support-system, do everything in your power to get one!  church, work, online friends - whatever & whoever, find people you can trust & tell them what you may be / are facing.  YOU NEED THEM.

note for family & friends: if a new mother in your circle shows signs of PPD, or honours you with the privilege of being told she IS suffering mental problems, ON NO ACCOUNT BRUSH HER OFF.  she is ill & she needs your help.  her baby needs your help.  immediately show her that you care, that you understand, that you are there for her.  NEVER take her symptoms lightly.  your compassion could be the gateway to her healing.  NEVER try to rationalize her communications.  NEVER try to argue her into a "right way of thinking."  take everything she shares with you at serious face value & offer her support, understanding, & love.

thank you

Although this is just a cursory overview of PPD & its treatment, I apologize that it is such a lengthy post.  However, I feel extremely strongly on this issue, & I want women to be prepared, for their friends & family to be ready to offer support.  Mental illnesses are invisible, but real, serious, sometimes life-threatening.  Mothers, there is nothing wrong with YOU, but there is something wrong with your body.  I want to share the hope of familial & medical help because it IS there for you to take!  Whatever postpartum looks like for you, my desire is that we all cherish our families & live a stable, loving life with our babies.  <3

It was late.  I was tired.  I had a headache.  I had taken Tylenol PM, Zzquil, muscle relaxant, + melatonin.  I was in bed.  I had nothing to write with.  So I opened "notes" on my phone + blearily scrawled a memo for a blog post, hoping that I would be able to decipher it come morning.

"don't have an agenda just creepy sometimes"

That was it.  Fortunately for you, I'm not going to leave you to figure out where to put the emphasis on this horrible piece of grammar, I'm going to make sense.  I've had coffee, I can do this.

reader, meet horror

1.  Just Because You're Not "In" This Genre Doesn't Mean You Can't Borrow It
When pitching to agencies + pigeon-holing your book for the market, you have to come up with SOME definitive genre to put your book in.  People are heels-over-head in love with pigeon holes; we have to humour them.  But the actual content of your writing can - probably SHOULD - incorporate elements from more than just a single genre.  Be bold!  Be brave!  Surprise your readers!

2.  This Genre Element Is Incredibly Effective
I see a lot of writers employing some method of torture/pain on their characters to evoke an emotional response in the reader.  This on many levels is an immature tactic.  Yes, if well done it can create sympathy + evoke compassion toward the afflicted, outrage toward the antagonist, etc., but it is tricky to pull off.  (Don't avoid it, though!  It DOES have a place!  Just don't shoot your character full of arrows to make your readers cry + have done.)

The value of horror lies in the emotional trauma inflicted, not merely on the character, but on your reader.  The reader is no longer merely a bystander watching the plot unfold, the situation goes directly to the psyche of the reader with a sucker-punch impact.  You don't even have to minutely describe the pain (physical or mental) of the character: the description of the situation is enough to bear the impact directly through the character to the reader, creating a "ghost-character" of the reader.

I gathered up the shaking, tumbled kid from the snarl of briars, lifting it to the mass of furs over my chest, but as I attempted it, the little thing suddenly spooked as though struck by an electric current, squealing in my arms and nearly hurtling back to the ground as I shrieked and struggled to grasp it.

“Hold still—hold still!” I cried. “Where have I hurt you?”

In the weird moongloom I saw it crane back its head to look at me with one eye—and that eye, rolling, rolling, slowly backward to my face, stark-white and stricken mad.

Sh-h-h-h-h-h…” said a ghost-wind from the wood. “Don’t shout. You’ll scare the poor thing.

My arms slackened and the kid fell in a lifeless pile to my feet. In the great black arch of the wood-mouth, into which the overgrown track ducked and vanished in an instant, there was first a rustle in the air, as of dry leaves shivering in a funeral breeze—a sudden, huge sense of a body there, looming toward me—and then I could see it. Two rows of shining teeth and canines like a tiger’s, coming toward me in the darkness. No head, only the teeth smiling, smiling like they would laugh at any moment. Then a nose materialized, first with black holes for its nostrils and white with bone, flooding over with a dark skin only a shade paler than the night. The eyes jumped out at me in two sudden silver flashes, throwing twin bars of glare across the dark, and then the whole thing had come full from the woodshore before me, horse-big and horse-shaped, without it ears and without any muscle on its frame to hide the gaunt outline of its bones.

Boo, little bunny.

My heart. In my throat. A huge, bulbous, swollen vessel throbbing so hard I felt I would vomit and throw up blood.

No?” it asked; smoke-tendrils which might have served as ears swivelled upward with sadistic amusement. “You don’t like that?

The ground kicked up under my feet and I hurtled backward with a guttural scream wrenching in my ears; at the same instant, above me, the creature’s skull opened from the jaw with a crack, doubling back over its own neck with a burst of reddish powder-cloud and a ripping noise like a butcher breaking open the ribs of a pig. The dark flooded in fold on fold over the thing until it was completely obscured…and then flowed off it backwards again, revealing, not a macabre horse, but something fairy-shaped and man-formed, white as death and shrouded with its own grey-mottled wings.

Is this more becoming to you?” it smiled.

Its teeth were the same.
adamantine rewrite

The imprint of the images on your nerves stays awhile, doesn't it?  Very little of the protagonist's feelings are described: I've left the narrative description to carry past her to you, the reader - so you don't need me to tell you how SHE feels, YOU feel everything for her.

3.  What Can Create Horror?
Again, it needn't be physical pain.  This doesn't have to be an employment of weird slasher-flick moments in your writing.  Your plot will dictate IF you use horror, WHEN you use horror, + HOW you use horror.  Here are some aspects to keep in mind:

SUCKER PUNCH  ||  I've got lots of comments on my writing, saying it is "graphic" + "violent," and yes to an extent there are those elements (periodically, in their proper places) in my writing.  But the knee-jerk reaction,  which belies the power of my use of horror, isn't because of the degree of violence or graphic imagery, it's in the unexpected blow.  The reader didn't see it coming, didn't prepare for the hit to the nerves.  That's one of the number one aspects that makes a horrific moment so powerful: you are totally defenseless to the shredding of your nerves.  Yay!

GROTESQUE, SURREAL, UNNATURAL  ||  Most well-hinged folk find the twisted + bizarre to be unnerving.  It gives us, at the very least, a sense of unease, and can quickly increase in revulsion.

(Tip: converge something WRONG with something aaaaaaalmost right.  In the description above, I've nearly given you the image of a horse - very familiar - but I've stripped it of muscles + ears, rendering it almost right but completely + macabre WRONG.  The reader feels this intuitively + a boat-load of graphic imagery is NOT necessary to make an emotional impact.  Also see "uncanny valley.")

& YEAH YOU CAN BE GROSS  ||  Because gross is a mainstay of horror.  Again, the caveat applies: don't just be gross for the sake of being gross, be smart about it!  Yuck, gross, unsanitary, death, decay - we are both spiritually + physically designed to revolt against their presence.  Here is another place the reader + protagonist instantly share a common reaction.

4.  How Is This Going to Positively Impact My Readers?
Sometimes, it won't.  See above, where some readers have accused me of being too graphic + too violent.  Some people just DON'T LIKE horror.  They don't WANT yuck.  They don't WANT the macabre.  If so, then stories containing this element are not for them.

But the strength of this element lies in the link it creates between the reader + protagonist without the labouring process of explaining + detailing the protagonist's feelings.  As readers, we WANT to be connected with the story.  We want to feel like we are there.  The instant bond of horror achieves this.  The story stays with the reader because he has experienced it, rather than merely digested the words.

in conclusion: don't write off horror as merely sadistic slasher motifs: it can be a very effective tool for the writer to communicate emotion to the reader.  have fun with it!

images via pinterest

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