Wednesday, October 4, 2017

#IWSG - My Fictionalized Nonfiction

October already and time for another edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group!

The group's purpose is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! Sign up for #IWSG here.

October 4 Question - Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

Well... yes. Yes, I have.

My novel, No Room for Hondo, centers around a new mother's struggles with newly diagnosed bipolar disorder in the weeks immediately following the birth of her daughter. This story was inspired by my own experience with mental illness, treatment, and the years of shame, guilt and self doubt that followed. In many ways, the book was my attempt at pushing my story onto a fictional character.

This picture was taken as I put my daughter to bed on our first Mother's Day.
The next day was the beginning of a mental health crisis that was not fully resolved
for years. 

It took a long time for me to gather the courage to write my story in any form. It seems I'm not alone in wanting to keep my mental illness a secret. A new study in the Maternal and Child Health Journal finds that "1 in 5 women with postpartum mental health disorders 'keep quiet.'" As in, women won't even disclose issues to their care providers.

It's long past time to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. If you're experiencing changes in mood, thoughts of suicide, thoughts of harming your baby or excessive worry, these are symptoms you should talk to your doctor or OB/GYN about. If you are not sleeping, talk to your doctor. Additional information about signs and symptoms of postpartum mental health disorders can be found here.

Looking back on the time after my daughter was born, I can see that I put just about all of my effort and planning into the birth. There was very little thought about what would happen "after" beyond a very inflexible plan to breastfeed and a few leftover meals in the freezer. My parents and mother-in-law lived an hour away. I had no work or church community. Visits from friends and extended family required me to entertain rather than relax. I never slept for more than two hours at a time and eventually I reached a point where I couldn't sleep at all.

The birth plan is a well publicized necessity for the expectant mother. In my case, and for the 1 in 5 women that experience postpartum mental illness, a postpartum support plan is needed. The state of Virginia has created just such a postpartum support plan to help pregnant women work through the scheduling of helpers, advance meal prep, and strategies for parental sleep that help prevent postpartum mood disorders. If these disorders cannot be prevented, which I believe was the case in my life, a solid support plan would aide in early diagnosis and treatment. It helps the family achieve "normal."

I hope that my story will help other mothers honestly address difficulties they face in those first weeks. And as far as that IWSG question goes, it's doubtful I'll ever be able to get myself out of my writing. My current work in progress is a compilation of stories about our family's experience with hearing loss. I'm in that one too.