Brooke Shields, John Nash, and the national APA meeting

Two thunderous standing ovations highlighted this year’s APA meeting. They were as different as you could imagine. An intimate conversation with Brooke Shields about her battle against nature’s cruelest mood disorder – postpartum depression – and Dr. John Nash (A Beautiful Mind) reading a paper he wrote in which he describes his battle against schizophrenia through metaphors of economic theory and the complex mathematics of game theory (for which he received a Nobel prize). Each presentation was in front of hundred’s of physicians and other professionals. One was alternately funny and gut wrenching.  The other was a mind twisting exercise in obfuscation.

What they had in common was each individual had the courage and strength to open their heart and soul to the professional world so that their stories could help us help others.

Dr. Nash’s presentation was interesting at times and touching at times but mostly unemotional.  I wish he had been interviewed in front of the audience instead.

He likened becoming psychotic to part of his mind going on strike. The most provocative thing he said was that to him his new insight into mathematics and his paranoia were both novel ideas not shared by anyone.  The only difference was that one was true, was labeled genius, and was rewarded with the Nobel prize.  The other was not true, was labeled insanity, and got him committed to a locked psychiatric ward.

The schizophrenic mind can’t tell the difference. Of course sometimes ideas are true but sound crazy.  And for various reasons society is not ready for them and may even persecute those who dare to challenge the current version of truth (like the earth is the center of the universe).

I was the most moved by Brooke Shields. Maybe because I have helped women who struggle with postpartum depression for over 40 years. 

What can possibly be a more joyous time than having a new baby – looking into your eyes, cooing, and responding to your love?  What can be more painful than when you as a mother feel nothing, or rejection, or thoughts of harming this poor helpless creature?  What could be more shameful and guilt producing? 

Everyone is saying how cute and precious your baby is, and you’re thinking "I wish you would shut up," or maybe even, "Please take this baby with you."  And if you do share that you’re not feeling right they say, "Oh, it’s just ‘baby blues.’  It will pass. it’s normal." 

And you’re thinking, "You don’t understand. I want to die. I feel empty, hopeless, inadequate, overwhelmed."  Or if they suggest medication, what you hear is you’re weak or crazy or both!  When you’re a celebrity with fame and fortune, a loving husband, and all the trappings of a perfect life, but you feel like a total failure, you see no hope for even being o.k. again and thoughts of suicide come to mind.

As Brooke Shields discussed this torturous beginning to motherhood, the pain of her experience was palpable throughout the ballroom.  The first turning point occurred for her when she had sent her husband to get a changing table, but he returned empty handed.  He sat on the bed and broke down.  She had never seen him cry.  He said "I went to the store and there were all these mothers and babies and families, and they were so happy.  Why aren’t we happy?" 

I almost lost it, in fact it took several tries before I could comment to my wife without getting choked up.

She went on to describe how she got on an antidepressant and felt better.  She went back to California and stopped the meds and crashed again.  She describes driving in her car with the baby in the back and thinking, "I could speed up to 80 mph and run into a concrete wall and all this would be over."  Fortunately she called a girlfriend and told her how she was feeling, and her girlfriend made a date with her for lunch the next day. She said her girlfriend was so manipulative because she knew Brooke was compulsive about keeping her commitments and would have to wait until after lunch tomorrow to drive into a wall.  

Brooke called her  doctor who asked if she had stopped her meds.  She said yes and he asked, "Why?"  She thought, "Did I sleep through my 4 years at Princeton?"

So, she went back on meds, had some side effects, changed meds, and eventually, everything was okay. 

3 years ago she went through a 2nd pregnancy without all the stressors of her first pregnancy, which included 7 in vitro fertilizations, miscarriages, death of her father (prostate cancer), an emergency C-section, being away froms support people, and being clueless with expectations of being the perfect mother. 

She described how different this 2nd experience was.  When the OB handed her the baby in the delivery room, her husband was thinking "Please don’t start sobbing," but she felt joyous, relieved, then elated.  She said, "I started telling my girlfriends they could have some of my husband’s sperm (in vitro) if they needed it."  A happy ending.

She tells her story in the recent book Down Came the Rain.  She has done way more than her share in making women aware of what can happen and that treatment is available.  I felt so much respect and appreciation for what she has done.  Then I thought about Tom Cruise (see previous article). I wondered how many women were on the fence about mood disorders, psychiatry, and medication.  How many were influenced by him to not seek help?  How many mothers suffered unnecessarily, and how many babies didn’t bond with their mothers during those early critical developmental weeks and whose lives will be adversely affected forever?

At the same moment I wanted to sing Brooke Shields praises and kick Tom Cruise’s ass.

 

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