Tuesday, February 08, 2011

When Coping isn't an option - Donna Alward

I'm going to get a little serious on the blog today. I thought about whether I should or not. And then I thought perhaps this was more important than my personal pride. I am what I am. And I am because of my experiences, and one of those experiences led me to writing my current release, Proud Rancher, Precious Bundle.

The story is about a reticent rancher, Wyatt, who discovers a baby girl on his doorstep. He's hopeless with babies, and enlists the help of a neighbour, Ellison Marchuk, to help him care for baby Darcy while they find out who she is and why she's landed on his front porch, of all places. Elli and Wyatt both have their own issues to work through, but Darcy brings them together. That's what the story is really about.

But underneath it all is the reason WHY she was left with Wyatt, and so I touch on an issue really close to my heart: Post Partum Depression.

I had it. In a pretty big way after my second child was born. When she was two weeks old, I was at the point of not functioning and having 2 small children to look after. I was miserable, looked at my husband, and said, "I need help."

We called my doctor. Within hours I was admitted to hospital. It was perhaps the most frightening experience of my life. I had become a stranger to myself in the blink of an eye. It was like losing what made me me, and yet recognizing that it should be there just the same. And then I was told where I was being admitted to: the psych ward.

The ward is a pretty interesting place. When I walked in it was completely surreal. A few minutes later a man went streaking down the corridor screaming. I was terrified. I didn't belong there. My new baby girl was in pediatrics as a well baby so I could visit her, but in order to do so I had to sign in and out at the station - and be let in and out of the ward. Most of all I slept. And slept. For hours. The second night someone coded and died. I never left my room. I was too afraid, but it shook me to my boots.

In the ward, you are not allowed to eat alone in your room. You have to eat in the common room, which is an experience on its own. By the second day I was realizing that everyone there had one thing in common - for whatever reason, they simply couldn't cope anymore. They were real people, like me. Who were sick. And honestly - I realized very early on that I was not in that bad of shape. It was very reassuring.

By the second full day I was spending time in Peds, rocking my baby girl and feeding her. While I was there, a very dear friend actually braved what I call "The Ward" and left me flowers. When I returned to my room and saw them there, I cried.

The next day my husband was allowed to "sign me out" for four hours, during which time I got to go home and have supper with him and my toddler.  After three full days I was released, with weekly appointments set up with a psychiatrist. After you've been admitted as a psychiatric patient, that is the protocol. That doctor also got me in contact with a support group. I learned strategies for dealing with anxiety - strategies I still use today. Some are as simple as learning to take down time. Go for a walk in the sun - a natural mood booster. Take a half hour to do something you enjoy - read. I treated those things as seriously as any prescription. Six months later I was handed off to my family physician. For another year plus, I dealt with sporadic anxiety attacks and insomnia. For the most part, it was over. But now and then I would get a reminder. I learned to listen to myself.

I know I'm not alone, and while this wasn't something I wanted to dominate the book, I knew that it was a very plausible reason why Barbara would leave her baby with the only person she could trust. And I knew that I wanted to say one thing about PPD: it's not hopeless. It does get better, and there is no shame in asking for help. Asking for help is the bravest thing you can do. And I'm better for having gone through it.

Best wishes,



Jen C said...

Hi Donna,

Thanks for your touching post. It moved me tears as I understand how someone can have it together and then find herself unable to cope with life. It's confusing and scary and so many women experience it in silence. We're expected (and often wanting) to be perfect mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, friends... To find that we are unable to fulfill those roles a functional capacity, or perhaps are just going through the motions without joy, is a heartbreaking experience.

Please don't feel that your pride is diminished by sharing your experience. It will resonate with your readers and it reflects your bravery and strength.

I am so glad that you sought help and are feeling better. Perhaps one of your readers will read your post and not feel so alone. It may help him or her feel that it's okay to ask for help.

Your words are courageous, as it your spirit. I wish you all the best.


Christina Hollis said...

I hope everyone who reads this post tells their friends to read it too - PPD is a condition that doesn't get the publicity it deserves. It has to be handled sensitively, which is why your post is so good, Donna - you're living proof that it can be treated and things *do* get better.
Sadly there's still so much prejudice, as I know to my cost. Sufferers can sometimes be so scared (or so good at hiding away) that they don't get the help they need.
Once again thanks - and to anyone out there who might be suffering , don't bottle it up. Despite how it feels, you aren't alone.

Mary said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story, I know it will help others who have had or are trying to deal with PPD right now.

I have suffered with depression my whole life and when my daughter was born my doctor was already prepared when I got PPD. I was put on meds and they helped but I didn't realize it was going to last for 6 months.

I don't think anyone is prepared for that to happen to them, so thank you for sharing your story and the new book with us.

Pamela Callow said...


Thank you for sharing your story. PPD is terrible and I'm glad you were able to ask for help and receive it. It must have been very scary to be admitted to the psych ward. Your children are lucky to have such a great mother.

Kaelee said...


As someone who is very familiar with mental illnesses, I am so happy you spoke out about your own experience. Too many people suffer in silence without getting the help that they need because "It's all in your head ~ you just have to be stronger" is the attitude too many people have.
My father suffered a total nervous breakdown when I was 11 years old. He went from being this happy go lucky person to a crying mess in a very short period of time. This was in the late 50's and at that time they used shock treatment which my dad had more than once. He had another strong attack of depression when I was in my first year of university ~ middle 60's. I was in walking distance of the hospital and used to visit him daily. It is very eye opening on that ward . One of my profs that I had at the beginning of the year was there. I think that is the reason I flunked uni.

Later my sister had PPD and her own bouts of depression. I think more stories with a background of depression as unromantic as that seems are what is needed to make people aware that it happens to all types of people.

Caroline said...

Thanks for sharing Donna. Caroline x

Pat Cochran said...

God blessed you, Donna, by making
you strong enough then to ask for
help. He also made you strong
enough now to share this story with
us. It is information that is not
discussed enough to aid new mothers and save families great stress. Thanks for sharing!

Pat Cochran

Helene Young said...

Well done, Donna, for writing about something that effects so many women and is so often ignored.

I know there will be women who read this, and 'Proud Rancher Precious Bundle', and find comfort in your words.

Nas Dean said...

Oh, Donna,

Your story moved me to tears. Thanks for sharing. WHile I wish nobody has to go through with this, I admire the courage and strength with which you overcame it.

Bev Pettersen said...

Thanks for sharing, Donna. You are so very brave and this book is going to touch a lot hearts, as this post did to me. Hugs,

Michele L. said...

Hi Donna,

My sister-in-law had the same thing happen to her. Then there was a woman at my church too that went through it also. She had 5 children and then after her 6th one she got really sick. The doctor told her no more kids. Then she wound up getting pregnant again. She was utterly spent from being pregnant so much. She had her kids practically one right after the other. She went through a lot with her PPD. She is better now.

Thank you so much for relating your story to us all. It lets all the women know that there is help for them, and to just ask their doctor. God bless you Donna!

Donna Alward said...

Thank you ALL for coming in and commenting. Many of your comments made me tear up. I'm not sorry I went through it; I learned a lot about myself and after all it led me to writing again. :-) It was hard, though!

I forgot to mention in the blog that Bell Canada (a phone service provider) is donating 5 cents for every long distance call or text message sent on Feb 10 to their Let's Talk initiative in support of Mental Illness. Talking about mental health is so important!