My experience in D.C. with the MMH Coalition and speaking with Congress district by district.
When I first came across the Maternal Mental Health Coalition and learned about their advocacy days on Capitol Hill, I just knew I needed to be a part of it. For someone with PTSD ( Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) Postpartum recovery can be one of the worst times of their life. The Hormones after birth, during and after breastfeeding can leave your mind feeling like a battlefield, where you must wage war on yourself and your thoughts while experiencing amplified PTSD symptoms. I knew that I had personally struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety after both of my children were born and after suffering two miscarriges. So how was I going to spread the word? I would start by writing and sharing my story but my goal was to join MMH as they stormed Capitol hill bringing awareness to a very much bipartisan issue. Who doesn't love mother's and babies?
So about a month and a half before my trip I started to prepare. Not by packing or by preparing my speech; my preparation started in my counseling appointments. I knew I needed to be in D.C. but I would have to get myself mentally prepared to do so. I would have to come to terms with traveling alone, in an unfamiliar city, sharing my very personal story of rape, PTSD, and postpartum depression anxiety, not to mention I would have to do this all unmedicated. I have replaced all pharmaceutical medication for PTSD with medical marijuana. It has worked wonders for me but sadly it still is not recognized federally so I am not allowed to bring my medicine over state lines. Althought cannabis in D.C. is both medically and reacreationally legal, there are no recreational dispenceries set up and my recipricol legal benefits from having my Florida medical marijuana card does not include access to a medical dispensery out of my state.
After weeks of memorizing city maps, building layouts and preparing escape plans for every building I was to enter (something I do to appease my hypervigiliant nature when out in public) and with the help of my fantastic counselor, I eventually felt confident enough to book my trip. As the trip rapidly approached I prepared my speech, ( I'm not usually one for prepared speeches but I wanted to make sure I stayed focus during what would be a very emotional plea to my Congressman to support maternal mental health. The day finally came and my husband drove me to the airport. I have a love/hate relationships with airports, I am inately a very social person, I love to be around people and speak to anyone who will listen, but then there is the part of my brain often controlled by PTSD that makes me want to jump out of my skin everytime someone accidentally bumps into me or flinches then freezes if TSA has to pat me down. Despite feeling overwhelmed I made it to D.C. It was a beautiful city. I took the time to practice my speech on anyone who would listen, I practiced it on a friendly couple I met at the park, I read it to strangers in my hotel lobby, I even read it to my cab driver. I felt confident to take on the next couple of days.
After dinner I had a lovely visit with my friend Brad, who moved to Maryland last year. We walked around town and he showed me all the monuments and landmarks. For a few hours I could lower my guard a little bit and try to truely enjoy my surroundings. My mind was kept preoccupied until it was time to say goodbye and head to my hotel for the night. My thoughts raced until I was so mentally exhausted I fell asleep. The next day was filled with preplanned events. I went to a luncheon at the Arts club of Washington, a briefing on Capitol Hill and a cocktail reception on Capitol Hill. I don't know how to put into words what I felt meeting up with the ladies of the MMH Coalition. I didn't know a single person going into this trip but within a few hours it was like a sigh of relief and a flood of excitement. I had found my tribe! These women and men were some of the most empathetic and passionate people I had ever met (with the exception of my husband of course, who I am pretty sure has super human capabilities of empathy and compassion). To speak completely unfiltered about my experience, with a room full of people who knew exactly what I was talking about, was empowering and validating. I have walked away from this event with friends from all around the country and I am so thankful.
The second night I was a big ball of anxiety. I couldn't sleep and when I finally did I had a flashback. Jolting awake in an unfamiliar room was unsettling. As usual after a flashback ,I tried not to fall back asleep in fear that it would happen again. Once morning had come I think I got a total of 2 and a half hours of sleep. I got ready and headed over to Capitol Hill. My body was exhausted, I was emotionally drained from the night before, I wasn't sure I could do it. I was almost certain that I would be unable to speak when the time came. Once it was time for our first meeting I could feel the anxiety bouncing around my body as I tried to conceal my shaking hands. One of my biggest fears going into my first meeting was, not being able to hold back my tears. When it was time to start my speech I could feel the lump in my throat and only a few sentences in it happened. I started to cry and I couldn't get myself to stop. I looked over at my team lead Maureen and the other ladies in my group and they tried to give me reassuring smiles. I looked over at Max Moody, Legislative Correspodent for Congressman Thomas Rooney, with tears in my eyes and it was like he was seeing me for the first time and I was competely an utterly vulnerable. Max leaned in, an paused for a moment before telling me "it was okay" signalling me to continue because he wanted to her the rest of what I had to say, he thanked me for giving a face to one of the statistics that he reads daily. Breaking down and crying might have been the best thing I could have done yesterday; validating that we are people who are sturggling emotionally and mentally from a very preventable medical condition. I was able to connect on a personal level I probably would have never achieved otherwise. Sometimes we view being openly emotional as weakness but I would like to challenge this idea; in many instances, it is the strongest thing you could possibley do. When the meeting concluding I knew I was ready for the rest of our sit downs with our South Eastern Congressman and Senators. With every visit I became more comfortable and poised. I wass happy to see that we were receiving so much postive feedback.
Human rights, including living a healthy life with access to health care is a bipartisan issue. It is time we stand up for ourselves and others. Please join me in my fight to educate the public and our elected officials. Share your story, support the people around you struggling, call or email your Representatives and Senators. All of these actions help give a face to our cause.
If you would like more information about how you can help the MMH coalition in their fight to raise awareness, pass legislation and receive funding please refer to www.mmhcoalition.com or reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org