The Dark Middle

I recently had to fill out a form and list my occupation and I sat there, completely horrified and frozen, trying not to cry. It’s these little unexpected moments that stick the knife in deep. What am I? I’ve had an occupation for forever and now, at least for the moment, I don’t.

I was so proud of it. I was so proud of what I was doing and how hard I worked to get there. I was so proud of being a #girlboss and being able to offer flexible and fulfilling jobs to other mothers. I was so proud of my own paycheck that I earned, even if it was just $17/hour. Plus, the issue was so close to my heart and the impact we were making was astounding.

And this week I’m in a waiting room filling out a form and … Occupation: __________________________.  [blink, blink]

I’m at a loss as to what to put there, which is actually more about what’s going on with me right now than what word to write in a blank.  I’m at a loss about everything. I’m not doing work I thought I’d be doing, was SURE I’d be doing, to help mothers until I retired at some ripe old age. There are people out there who believe things about me that are unequivocally untrue. There are people who have sat in comfortable and righteous judgment about something they know almost nothing about. I am at a loss about the behavior of humanity. I see people who used to talk to me on social media all the time who don’t say a peep now and I sit and grapple with whether:

a) They believe I’m a terrible person. Or;

b) They don’t want to be seen talking to me for fear it will hurt their own reputation, even though they actually know I’m a good person. (So page views in the end may be more important than people?)

The person I always was before all this happened is the exact same person I am now, and yet I’m supposed to prove I am actually that person? The person I still am and always was? The one you used to know, who is still me?

I’m in bizarro world.

Still, I’ve been reflecting a lot and looking inward and the funny thing about all of this is that there are a lot of mistakes people think I made but didn’t, and yet other mistakes I’m now so clear I made that had not one thing to do with the whole kerfuffle. And yet time and change and pain all lead you to sit and examine and see where you could have done better.

I was a good leader. There’s no question about that. I created and led a movement and that’s a fact and I’ll never not be proud of it. NEVER. At the same time, I can see I wasn’t the best manager. I can look back and identify things I should have done differently. One key one being not to manage out of fear. There are some decisions I should have made early on and I didn’t make them because I was afraid. Of what people would say, of what people might think, of what I’d have to deal with after the fact. I regret that. Deeply. I should have listened to my gut. I should have listened to what other people were trying to tell me. You can’t manage out of fear and succeed in the long run.  Sometimes the wolf outside the fence is better than the one inside.

I also didn’t realize how balls-to-the-wall hard I was working all the time and I mean ALL. THE. TIME. You get so used to it you don’t even notice. Thirteen years of it. Now that I have all the time in the world to garden and relax and read books and cook and take care of my family and hang with my kids I can see it very clearly. My excuse was, “The mission is everything. This has to get done.” It was a good one because preventing suffering and loss from maternal mental illness is so important. At the same time, it was too much. It wasn’t good for me and it definitely wasn’t good for the PPI team. Many of our staff were working equally as hard as I was and I was overwhelmed and they were overwhelmed and I should have recognized that. I could have slowed things down. We kept growing and growing and I was afraid … there’s that fear again … of losing momentum and I should have decided that we didn’t need to do everything all at once. Some things could wait.

Sometimes you don’t learn a thing, as Brene Brown explains in her book “Rising Strong,” until you’re face down in the arena. I’m here. Face down, bruised, had the crap beat out of me. The things that got me here today, at this moment, are things that have very little to do with me and a lot to do with other people and their own issues. I get that. I accept that. And yet I’m here now so I’m trying to use the time to learn because there’s always something you can learn. No one is perfect. We’ve gotten to a place in our society, especially in social media right now, where we expect perfection. If someone screws up, or even if we think they’ve screwed up but don’t know for sure, we don’t even consider all the moments they didn’t. All the millions of actions strung together that were done right; only the mistake. Every single day on social media someone anew is being ripped to merciless shreds. I don’t know what happened to grace. At Postpartum Progress we always encouraged mothers to be gentle with themselves and others because we recognized that everyone is struggling in some way. No one is perfect.

I’m sure upon continued reflection I’ll find more things that I need to learn. Of course I will. I might have learned them without all of this happening. But I might not have. So … bright side.

Meantime, I don’t know what my occupation is. Or where I’m headed.

Dark middle. Dark middle. Dark middle. Dark middle. Ugh. Patience. Faith. Patience. Yes. Okay. I’m trying.

Magic Through Nerves And Reason

Paper Freedom, Origami abstract vector illustration.I remember decades ago reading something about nervous energy simply being a sign that you’re doing something important. Something you’re passionate about.

I’m a bundle of nerves. I am shot through with adrenaline on a minute-to-minute basis these days and it’s not letting up. If you could check my pulse right now you’d probably be shocked, and it’s been that way for days on end. Racing. Racing.

I’m trying to embrace these nerves. I know why I have them. I’ve taken a full nosedive into my nonprofit and an effort to change the world to help moms with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. I’m trying to tackle some very big things. I have my hand stirring countless pots, and I need some of them to finally boil. I need obstacles removed. I need to make things happen. The longer this takes the faster my heart beats, and I worry it may explode.

I’m convinced I could run from here to New York and I wouldn’t burn off this energy. And no, it’s not mania. I sleep, believe me. It’s more of a final acceptance and embrace and commitment to getting certain things done and the fear that comes with not knowing exactly how to do them but going for it anyway. It’s decades of the pent up need of thousands of mothers all pounding inside my heart muscle and binding my chest and I can hardly breathe.

Today I searched for that quote about nervous energy from my youth and I couldn’t find it anywhere, so maybe I was deluding myself with that one, but I did find this:

“When magic through nerves and reason passes,
Imagination, force, and passion will thunder.
The portrait of the world is changed.”
― Dejan StojanovicCircling: 1978-1987

My life right now. Magic through nerves and reason. The portrait of the world will be changed.

Photo credit: © blinkblink –

The One Where I Delete My Compulsion to Delete

I have had the serious inclination to delete yesterday’s post. DELETE. Not that I will, of course. But there’s something about telling people you do NOT have it all together that is very frightening.

Don’t be vulnerable in public, for goodness sakes. Vulnerable around friends and family, okay. Your community, sure. But when it comes time to be a leader, nope. Especially not when you’re planning to go round the world telling everyone how buttoned up you are and why they should give you money to change the status quo of postpartum depression. God forbid you appear to be wavering. Or hesitant. Or lacking in fortitude.

But then I remind myself, you don’t have to be fearless to be fierce. That’s my credo, and I’m the one who needs to be reminded of it more than anyone else.

You don’t have to be fearless to be smart and powerful. Or to make change. You don’t have to hide the fact that you have anxiety when you are an advocate for women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, DUH. You don’t have to have a special degree to know that change needs to come now for pregnant and new mothers.

I can’t pretend to be that other kind of person that barges into the boardroom.

Well, that’s not true, now that I think about it. I can. I did that when I was at Coca-Cola and I did just fine. But not about this stuff. This is different. This is my life and the lives of women and their babies we’re talking about. And there is data, there are numbers and I can put together all sorts of charts and I will because that’s what people will want to see but behind that is humanity, including mine. And vulnerability, including mine. And so I can’t delete the previous post or the one before that or the one before that because that would be in direct contradiction to the message of my life and of Postpartum Progress and the Fierce blog: It’s okay to be vulnerable and have fear and for those of us who have had or still crushing anxiety and doubts as we charge forward, that’s perfectly okay too.

No deleting.

That “Oh My Hell, What Am I Doing?!” Feeling

You know that feeling you get, the whirring, whizzy, fizzy “Oh My Hell, What Am I Doing?” feeling that courses through your nervous system and makes your internal organs vibrate when you think of stepping into something massive or doing something significantly different or taking a risk that could end in disaster? When you try to do something that feels definitely possible yet so much bigger than you and you can’t see how to get there or how you can get it done and yet you know you have to do it and you realize you can’t ignore it any more which really sucks?

That’s where I’m at.

I don’t like this, Sam I Am. I feel sick to my stomach. I want to sleep in. Or run away. Or pretend I’m not me, and therefore I don’t need to do the BIG THING. Historically I’d rather let my focus wander over to the shiny fun stuff in the corner — wheeee!! — than on what’s right in front of me, glaring at me, saying, “No, this! This is your thing. The universe has given you this BIG THING and you must do it and too bad if you’re scared. We’ll just keep whacking you over the head until you surrender. So get on with it.”

In a couple of days (July 13th), Postpartum Progress will hit its 9th anniversary. Nine years!! Nine years ago I started blogging about postpartum depression and I had no idea what would come of it. I only knew that what was happening to women, my fellow mothers, was not cool at all and I couldn’t stand for it, so, hey, why not start a blog? ::blink blink::

Then about seven years in I thought to myself, this blog is kicking so much ass and yet things still haven’t changed enough. There are still annoying gobs of uninformed physicians out there doing damage to moms. Still mothers who either don’t recognize what is wrong or are too scared to say anything and so they don’t get help. They don’t know the damage suffering in silence can do to both them and their families. Still organizations that purport to care about women’s health that fail to even mention PPD, the most common complication of childbirth. I’m not satisfied. So hey, why not start a nonprofit?

::blink blink blink::

I started the 501c3 organization Postpartum Progress Inc. (PPI) in 2011 because I wanted to take the magic that had been created with Postpartum Progress and all its wonderful Warrior Moms and spread it from the blogosphere out into the entire world. I wanted to do more than just write blog posts, answer emails, tweet and give speeches. I wanted to create informational materials and raise money and gather data and fund research.

But then, of course, I had an emotional crisis. I now had a nonprofit and was immobilized like I can’t even explain. What the hell have I done? I can’t do this. I don’t know how to raise money. I suck at it, and P.S. I don’t know any rich people. I don’t know about social investing and grant writing and policy development and all that Skoll Foundation sort of stuff.

For a while I engaged in massive scope reduction, scaling back those dreams in order to protect my fragile self. I gave me a very convincing speech: “This is cool. You can have a teeny, tiny little nonprofit and do some teeny, tiny little helpful things and hey, it’s better than doing nothing so you can be satisfied with your giveliness (I know it’s not a word, I made it up for this sentence) and maybe you’ll get into Heaven or something.”

But I’m learning the universe, when it’s convinced, doesn’t give in.  A few months ago my wonderful friend and PPD survivor Deborah Rimmler, who is on the PPI board of directors, came up with a fundraising idea called “Climb Out of the Darkness.” She said she’d climb a mountain to signify her climb out of the darkness of PPD, and she’d ask people to donate to PPI in support of her climb.  And I said, well hell I can climb a mountain too and I love the idea so let’s do it. We decided to share the idea on the blog, thinking maybe a few people here and there would join in. And then, to our absolute shock, in a mere four-week period a little more than 150 survivors created nearly 100 Climbs in seven countries and raised $40,000. For the nonprofit. The one I was thinking maybe wasn’t going to need to be a big deal or anything.

There was much crying and sobbing and pacing back and forth between this desk and my kitchen as I watched the dollar amount raised and the number of people involved tick higher and higher.  Because yes I know it’s not $500 million or anything, but that’s forty thousand dollars that a few women who don’t know a thing about fundraising either went and GOT in four weeks, scrounged up all on their own, because they believe. THEY BELIEVE.  They believe in Postpartum Progress. They believe in the collective power of survivors of postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety/OCD, antenatal depression, postpartum psychosis and more saying, “We waited long enough for big change and it hasn’t come. We’ve waited long enough, and we’re not going to wait anymore. We’ll get this done our damn selves.”

And so I tell myself, commit. And okay yes I committed nine long years ago or I wouldn’t still be sitting here talking about PPD. I know that. But I mean commit to the bigger thing. THE REALLY FUCKING (sorry but this definitely requires a swear word here) SCARY BIG THING.

Do more. Go bigger. And so I’m having conference calls with scientists and researchers and super smart health innovators. I’m spending hours not tweeting or Facebooking but reading about funders and how you’re supposed to get in front of people with lots of dough to tell them about the super exciting stuff that we’re on the cusp of being able to do to impact the health of new families. Things that will not just inform and comfort, as Postpartum Progress the blog has, but things that have the power to change everything.

This all means, of course, that I have to agree to being scared out of my wits on a continuous basis which, if you know me and my history of anxiety, is NOT part of my lifelong adherence to avoiding danger. Thus the whirring, whizzy, fizzy feeling. It’s hard to step forward when every self-preserving part of you says, “Oh no, sister. You’ve lost your mind. WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO COMFORT AND SAFETY??!!!”

I feel sick. And yet I think I’m ready to be done getting whacked on the head. I think it’s time to get on with it.

* * *

What’s giving you that “Oh My Hell” feeling? What BIG THING are you hesitant to take on? What would it take to move you forward?

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You Don’t Have To Be Fearless To Be Fierce

fearMy parents were 20 and 22 when I was conceived.  They were just dating, and I was an unplanned surprise.  My mother placed me for adoption, which I completely understand now that I’m grown.  I went home with a family from Texas I believe, though I don’t know their names.  I was there, I think happy and safe, for several months.

Then my dad decided to get me back.  I don’t quite understand how it all happened, because no one likes to talk about it, but he went to court, at some point punched out a bailiff, and in the end my two young, inexperienced, unmarried parents regained custody of me.

I’m told the first night I was home with them in their apartment they had a party with the prostitutes from across the street.  Then they put me to bed in the bottom drawer of a dresser, because they had no baby things.  And that was the beginning of me. [Read more…]

86% of Me Isn’t Enough

unfriend, unlike“I wouldn’t accept any friend request from someone who is a Republican.”

That’s the conversation I saw two of my friends having on Facebook a year or so ago. It wasn’t out of context. They meant what they said. The statements were as clear as day, definitive, and I saw them appear right before my eyes coming from two women I respected and still do to this day.

At that moment, I had a mini heart attack. I thought, well I’m one, albeit a super moderate one, and we’re friends. Maybe they don’t know my politics and if they find out they won’t want to be friends with me anymore. I’ll be unfriended. As they say in those submarine movies, DIVE! DIVE! DIVE! [Read more…]

The Day My Spanx Stuck Out at CNN

CNNI got the message while I was sitting at my desk, looking forward to a full Friday with no conference calls or meetings. Nothing to do but focus on writing and answering emails. Would you like to be on HLN TV today to talk about postpartum depression?

The answer to that is always, “Of course!” because I’ll take any mass media opportunity to give moms better information about the most common complication of childbirth, even if it means missing out on the luxury of a rare uninterrupted day of work. [Read more…]

Are You Too Much Or Not Enough?

too much, not enoughOn a recent Facebook update, someone who read my post about stepping into your light shared how she’s often been told by other women friends that she’s too much of something: “You’re too artsy.” “You’re too flirty.”

Her comment jumped out at me. You’re too ________. How many times has somebody said something like that, something that makes us shrink back and reduce the fullness of who we are or what we want to be? You’re too smart. You’re too good at math. You post too many blog posts. You talk too much. You care too much. You’re too involved. You’re too concerned with making money. You’re too rich or successful. What have you been told you’re too much of?

And what about the opposite of too much, when you’re not enough? You’re not good enough. You’re not tough enough. You’re not experienced enough. You’re not qualified enough. You’re not “mom enough.” You’re not attractive enough. [Read more…]

On Building Confidence And Not Dying Of “Exposure”

exposureIn the nine years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve watched as my peers toiled mightily. Poured their hearts out, flicking endlessly back and forth between WordPress, Typepad, email, Facebook, then Twitter, then Pinterest, then Google+, and everything in between, making sure they’re reaching out, answering back to their communities and supporting other people’s work. You’ve never seen a multi-tasker in your life like someone in social media.

It’s never ending. Your readers will contact you at 3am in the morning. While you’re on vacation. When you’re in the hospital. And that’s okay because you love them, you’ve created something with them that’s hard to explain but yet it’s there and it exists and you keep feeding it because you love it and them and, to your delight, it keeps growing. There’s always more to write, new ideas to chase after, and new people to help, and while we sometimes complain about it because it’s exhausting and draining, we also love it. I love it as much or more than I love cheese, and that’s saying something. [Read more…]

When People Want You To Stay in The Shadows

Step into your light.

People don’t like you.

That’s what she said. My best friend in high school told me, “People don’t like you.”

She and I were both part of the music and theater crowd, and we were talking about some recent auditions for our school’s upcoming show.

“What? Why?!” I asked, flabbergasted.

“Because you get up there on the stage like you know you’re going to get the part, and then you audition, and then you do get it. Everyone hates that.”

People don’t like you when you succeed. That was the takeaway, the start of me thinking I needed to stand in the shadows.

Little did anyone know how hysterical I always was before an audition, how I never practiced in advance and waited until the last minute to even try out so that I’d have an excuse when I didn’t get picked. I was always convinced I wasn’t good enough and scared beyond my wits.

And then I would get picked. In fact, on most occasions I’d get the lead. I had no idea why! Performing was something I liked to do and it was what I gravitated to and so I’d drag myself kicking and screaming into auditioning, sure that I was awful and had no business being on the stage, and I’d get picked. It was always a complete shock to me when I’d land the lead. And then I learned no one liked me for it.

I was devastated.

* * *

A little more than a decade later, when I was working at Coca-Cola, we were to have a meeting with the head of our department. In the particular group I was in at the time, we rarely got this kind of audience. All I knew was that each of us was going to have a short period to share an update on our projects. I was excited about the opportunity, so I did what I thought I should do. I went through everything I was working on, looked at objectives and results, and wrote up a summary.

At the actual meeting, it turned out I was the only person who had done so much preparation in advance. I was the only person who had a physical piece of paper to share. I was the only one who had any data. The boss said he was duly impressed. When the meeting was over, one of my colleagues sneered, “Way to show us up, Katherine.”

Again, I was stunned. It seemed like the normal thing to do to be buttoned up and ready to go in front of the Vice President. I wasn’t showing anyone up. It had never occurred to me that everyone else wouldn’t be doing the same thing I had done.

Here we go again. Get back in the shadows, Katherine. People don’t like you.

* * *

I’ve come to believe that each person has a spotlight waiting for them. There’s a light shining down from God, or the universe, or whatever it is that you believe in, and you just need to step into it. It’s your light and no one else’s. It’s the space in which you do what you’re meant to do. In which you are the fullest iteration of you. What’s great about your light is that it doesn’t overlap with others’. There’s no competition. To get into my light, I don’t have to crowd anyone else out of theirs. Stepping into mine doesn’t affect anyone else’s ability to step into theirs.

For a long time I didn’t understand this. I felt like I couldn’t, shouldn’t step into my light. If I did, people wouldn’t like me. That’s what my best friend told me. That’s what my colleagues told me. Don’t do well, for goodness sake! Don’t raise your head up above the crowd. Don’t value yourself, or be proud of what you have accomplished. Don’t stand out in any way. Don’t even accidentally succeed, without strategy or forethought. If you step into your light, you’re taking away from others. I was wrong.

Still, stepping into your light is painful. It’s already bad enough when you have your own fears and anxieties about saying or doing anything special. Having any opinion, or staking your ground. What right do you have?!, you admonish yourself. We all do. Yet you are still pulled toward that something special, so much that eventually you have no choice but to push past your fears and try, only to have someone loudly object, “You were right. You don’t have any right. We don’t give you permission to do or be this.” They are wrong.

I want to step in. I’m going to step in, or at least try, into whatever it is I’m pulled to do, however many things that is, and I want you to know that it is no reflection on you whatsoever. In fact, I’d like to be standing in my light, next to you standing in yours, next to her standing in hers. There’s enough for all of us.

I don’t want to be vanilla just because it’s the most acceptable flavor for all people. I don’t want to stand in the shadows.


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