Public service announcement to moms everywhere: If you haven’t started watching CBC’s new show “Workin’ Moms”, you need to stop whatever you are doing now and go watch it. Go, now! I’ll wait.
Ok, now that you have done that, can we talk about how amazing it is to see a show that realistically portrays a mom with postpartum depression? I love Frankie. From the first episode, where she announces to her mom and baby group that she “may have a touch of postpartum…” to the point when she falls out of a tree while wearing a princess dress, she speaks honestly about what is in her head, no filter. For instance, her thoughts about letting the car just drift off the road, or how peaceful it would be to drown to death. She says all the things out loud that I only thought in my head.
I wish I could have been more like Frankie. When my second son was born I fell into a deep depression for a really long time. In fact, the depression started even before he was born. I remember a visit to the midwife’s office where they had me fill in a form about my mental health, and then gave me a referral to a psychologist. But on the day the clinic called two weeks later to book an appointment, I was having a good day, and I told them I didn’t need it. My midwife scolded me for not making the appointment, and left it at that. So I kept coasting through, pretending like everything was fine.
Why couldn’t I have been honest like Frankie? The truth is, I have spent most of my life pretending I’m ok when I am not. I have lived with undiagnosed complex PTSD from childhood abuse which showed up as panic attacks, depression, and anxiety my whole life. But people don’t talk about these things, I learned that quickly enough. So I put on a mask of the person who has it all together, and I just kept going until one day I couldn’t.
I dragged myself out of postpartum depression with a grim determination that after all I had already survived, this would not be the thing that took me out. But I did it alone, without community. Only years later, in hushed conversations with other moms would I learn that they too had experienced the same unwanted thoughts tormenting the early years of motherhood. If I’d been able to see Frankie 4 years ago, maybe I would have called the psychologist’s office back. Maybe I would have found a place where I could talk to other moms going through the same thing. That would have been really nice.
After I beat postpartum depression, I started a community online for other parents like me, who are survivors of childhood abuse living with PTSD. Having a place to honestly talk about the mental health struggles I face has been such a gift. I don’t feel alone any more, and I don’t feel like a freak. There is so much shame in our culture about exposing our darkness. Whether it is PPD or PTSD, or another mental health issue we face, when we can talk openly and honestly about it, we get better.
Brene Brown writes “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it…Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” So that begs the question, how can we make it safer for people, and especially for new parents, to talk about the darkness without fear of judgment? The only way I have found so far is to share my story, whenever and wherever I can. Every time I share it, I give another person permission to own her story as well.
I know that there are so many women watching Workin’ Moms who identify with Frankie as much as I do. And even though she is a fictional character, her story has the same power to give others permission to be honest about their struggles. I like to think that there is some new mom out there in the same place I was 4 years ago, who will pick up the phone and get the help she needs, because she saw her story reflected in that TV screen. If I ever get to meet that mom, I’m going to give her the biggest hug. And then we will have a long talk over a cup of coffee and share our real stories.