One morning, I completely fell apart. I told my husband I wanted to die and he rushed me to the emergency room. I was prescribed an antidepressant and things immediately started improving.

I was suffering from major postpartum depression, which in my experience was like living in a completely different world from everyone I loved. I could see them laughing and smiling, but I couldn’t participate despite how hard I tried. I felt cut off, cut out, and on the verge of being discarded. I was completely convinced that I would keel over at any moment.

Still, I was very much a part of my son’s life. I played with him, breastfed, cleaned house, walked my dog, exercised, ate healthy, and generally attempted to enjoy life.

My moods oscillated between nervous trepidation and complete despair. My friends noticed that I was very sensitive and didn’t laugh the way I used to, but just assumed it came with the territory of new motherhood. My family noticed that I had lost my confidence, but couldn’t decipher any real problem.

It started almost immediately after giving birth. I was wholly unprepared to be a mom; totally unprepared for the overwhelming feeling of love and joy my son would bring me. Unfortunately, he suffered from colic, which despite everything I tried continued until he was four months old. Then, at four months, he stopped sleeping. My husband and I would manage two hours of sporadic sleep throughout the day. It was sheer torture. After a month of this I had lost myself. My husband said I would wander around the house mumbling under my breath.

We finally decided to hire a pediatric sleep specialist. She was a godsend. At six months, he would take two solid naps and sleep 10-12 hours a night. I finally had the opportunity to sleep. We thought things would improve for me too.

I slept better, certainly, but not well. My son still cried occasionally, like any normal baby, but to me it was agonizing. His occasional fits would cause me to breakdown. I would sob and shake until he stopped crying. We went on like this for two more months.

After eight months of this I’d become a different person. My son was healthy, happy, and sleeping well, but I couldn’t see it. I had somehow convinced myself that he wasn’t doing well, and that it was my fault. I had convinced myself that he had suffered from colic and sleep issues because of me, and that if he’d had a better mother he would have been happy and healthy from the very beginning.

And so, that one morning (described above), my husband took me to the ER and I got help.

Things have continued to improve. I’ve read hopeful and helpful stories on coming back from postpartum depression. My therapist cleared me a few months ago, and I see a psychiatrist every two months. I admit I was afraid taking antidepressants would make things worse, but it has truly helped. I never expected treatment to be this rewarding. Life is completely wonderful and I have the tools and support to enjoy it with my family. Getting help was the best thing I could have done.

My hope in writing this is that it encourages you, or someone you know, to get the help they need. No one should have to be afraid of treatment. Always consult your family physician when seeking any kind of medical care. The most important thing to remember with postpartum depression is that your well being is essential to the health of your child. Your baby needs you, everything else is secondary.

Howard County Library System has loads of books on parenting and mental health. I personally loved Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing up Bebe : One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.

Brenna Godsey is a Customer Service Specialist at Central Branch. She lives in Columbia and is a proud mother of one boy and a golden-doodle. She enjoys reading, napping, and playing with her growing family.

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August 20, 2016 is a date that will forever be in my memory. I received a very serious concussion, due to a cycling accident, that changed my life. My fiancé and I were participating in a charity cycling event, on a closed course, in Howard County. We’re not sure what happened, but I crashed – hard. I could not have been luckier because I crashed in front of a police officer who was able to get me help quickly. I was unconscious for three minutes. First responders rushed me to a shock trauma facility.

I haven’t been able to remember the two weeks that I spent in the shock trauma hospital. My family accounts for that time though, reminding me of the exceptional care I received. The trauma team performed a wide range of assessments and determined that I had broken my clavicle, my temporal bone (in multiple places), had two brain contusions, and a large laceration on the outside of my head that required staples to close. The doctors were very clear with my family – the helmet I had been wearing saved my life. The team treated me with various medications, trying to get the swelling in my brain down. For several days, it was touch-and-go as to whether or not I would need surgery to reduce the swelling. Thankfully, I didn’t need it.

When I was moved to a rehabilitation and orthopedic hospital I saw physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists, in addition to a neurologist. The specialists called my progress “astounding,” and released me after a week. I continued for outpatient OT (occupational therapy) for my broken clavicle and only needed two sessions with the speech therapist. My progress took everyone by surprise, given the severity of my injuries.

I returned to work at the end of October 2016 and my progress continues to astound my family (and me) on a daily basis. I’m slightly more than six months passed my accident and I am so grateful for the ongoing progress. The lessons I’ve learned from this experience have been life-changing! My concussion has been tough on me and my family, but it’s taught me to ask for, and accept, help (which is something I’ve always struggled with).

My doctors tell me that I’ll encounter some challenges this year – a weaker immune system, getting fatigued more easily, etc., but I am learning to listen to my body. Recovery isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the alternative. My long-term prognosis is excellent and my doctors expect a full recovery in a year. They’ve also told me that I will be back doing triathlons before I know it!

I choose gratitude everyday for all the progress I’ve made.

Sara Berlin is a Special Educator, with a specialty in teaching students with Autism, teaching for Baltimore County Public Schools. Currently, she is a Consulting Teacher, working with new and low-performing Special Educators. She spends her summers at Camp Louise, where she serves as the Division Head for the middle school program, as well as the Inclusion Coordinator.  In her free time, Sara can be found on the bike paths of Howard County, as she loves the outdoors and is a triathlete!

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A Parent’s Guide to the Flu Vaccine

Child Getting a Flu Shot

Child Getting a Flu Shot
[Credit: Monkey Business Images, Ltd.]/[iStock]/Thinkstock

The flu vaccine is the first and best way to prevent getting the flu, which causes approximately 250,000 illnesses and 36,000 deaths each year.

We contacted Maura J. Rossman, M.D., health officer at the Howard County Health Department, to provide you with the latest changes in vaccine options and tips for making your child comfortable when getting a flu shot.

Read what she shared with us.

The Nasal Spray and Shot 

Recent studies found from 2013 until 2016 the nasal spray showed “poor or relatively lower effectiveness” at only three percent, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Based on these findings, the CDC voted that the live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) nasal spray should not be used during the 2016 – 2017 flu season.

Generally, vaccines containing a live virus cause a stronger immune response in our bodies. The nasal spray was thought to be comparable or better than the flu shot; it was not. To date, there is no explanation for its poor performance.

The flu shot performed well during last year’s flu season, at 65% effectiveness, indicating that millions were protected from the flu. “Based on manufacturer projections, health officials expect that the supply of the vaccine for the 2016 – 2017 season should be sufficient to meet any increase in demand,” according to a written statement from the CDC in June 2016. The flu shot is available in good supply and safe for most people ages six months and up.

Tips for Getting Your Child Vaccinated

Parents who are having a young child vaccinated should consider following the CDC’s tips for making the experience less traumatic:

• Distract and comfort the child by cuddling, singing or talking softly.
• Smile and make eye contact with the child. Let him/her know everything is OK.
• Comfort the child with a favorite toy or book. A blanket that smells familiar helps him/her feel more comfortable.
• Firmly hold the child when he/she is sitting on their lap, whenever possible.

For older children:

• Take deep breaths with the child to help “blow out” the pain.
• Point out interesting things in the room to help create distractions.
• Tell or read stories.
• Support the child if he/she cries. Never scold the child for not “being brave.”

Parents can help keep their child healthy this flu season by having them vaccinated, and getting themselves vaccinated as well.

Maura J. Rossman, M.D. is the health officer at Howard County Department of Health.

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Living with Bipolar Disorder II

bipolar disorderSeveral weeks ago I was hospitalized for severe depression. I’d been dealing with a stressful project at work, my father’s terminal illness, and just getting over a painful breakup. For weeks it felt like I was drowning in my own head. I constantly felt exhausted. Simple tasks, like showering and getting something to eat, felt like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro without oxygen. Crying for no reason became the new norm. I went through my normal routine, numb and almost robot-like and could not find it within me to feel any pleasure in what I did. My range of emotion was limited to sad, hopeless, and angry. I’d suffered from depression and anxiety most of my adult life, but I realized how bad it was getting when I started to have recurring suicidal ideations.

These ideations were what scared me the most. I had no control over my mind. It didn’t matter what I was doing, thoughts of ending my life became persistent. In a sick way, the thought of dying provided comfort in finally putting an end to my misery.

One morning, I had an extremely difficult time getting out of bed. I slowly showered, dressed for work, drove to the office, and told my boss that I was afraid I was going hurt myself. He knew about my struggle with depression and I explained my life was so unbearable that I wanted to end it. I cannot remember much, but I do know I was brought to the psych unit of the ER. I cried hysterically several times, begging the hospital staff not to admit me to the psych ward.

I was admitted to another hospital for short-term hospitalization where I was stabilized with medication and group therapy. I am currently in outpatient therapy to learn coping skills, stress management, and recognize behaviors that I need to work on.

living with bipolarHIGH FUNCTIONING
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Bipolar Disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a chronic brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

I am Bipolar II which means I have patterns of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes, which involve elevated, high-energy moods. When I am hypomanic, I feel extremely energetic, talkative, and overly confident. For example, I’ll take on dozens of tasks at work and insist I do them on my own. Most of the time, I’m unable to complete the unrealistic goal I’d set for myself.

My psychiatrist said I am a high functioning bipolar. I’d been misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder all these years. Everyone that knows me thinks I’m a workaholic overachiever with a sweet, bubbly, outgoing personality. They think I have this tank of never-ending energy when I am up until 3:00 a.m. baking batches upon batches of cookies for no reason. Or when I can take care of a sick family member at the hospital all day and then answer work emails until 4:00 a.m. night after night for a week and not feel exhausted. I learned that this was also my hypomania.

No one ever saw the depression because I have mastered the art of hiding it from everyone, including most of my family and exes (even the last guy, who also had bipolar). When I am agitated or what I now know is an unstable mood, I always make a deliberate effort to be kind to those I interact with because I’m a firm believer that you never know what kind of day they’re having. It was only when I was alone that I allowed the dark depression to devour me and keeping up this act of normalcy took its toll.

show me all your scarsMANAGING MY DISORDER IS MY RESPONSIBILITY.
The key to leading a happy, functional life is managing my disorder to the best of my abilities. Thanks to my ex boyfriend (also bipolar), I have a huge head start in educating myself about the disorder. I am fortunate to have a strong support system to help me cope and finally adjust to my new reality.

I am doggedly determined to maintain my stability and health not just for myself, but the people in my life. I am working out a plan with my doctor and therapist to make sure I stay on track. I am learning to manage my stress and look out for triggers. And most of all, I am holding myself accountable for how I manage my disorder moving forward.

NEGATIVE LABELS
I’ve seen so many negative things in the media about people struggling with bipolar. Not one bipolar person is the same -and to negatively label all of us is ignorant and requires more education about the disorder. We, with bipolar, also ask for empathy and understanding. I know good people who struggle with this disorder; who work incredibly hard every day to maintain their stability for themselves and their families.

I did not choose to be bipolar. No one with this disorder did.

[Editor’s Note: This post is a personal account of one of our contributors who asked their name be kept private. If you or someone you know is suffering with depression and feels unsafe, please go to your nearest emergency room or call 9-1-1.]


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Back to School: How to Prepare Your Child’s School for Food Allergies

Eliminating Gluten, Nuts and Dairy Photo

Brad Calkins | Dreamstime.com |Eliminating Foods Diet

With school starting soon, you’re probably busy with back-to-school activities, like buying clothes and school supplies, but is preparing your child’s school for his/her food allergies on the to-do list?

With a little organization, preparation and education, you can help keep your child safe from experiencing a food allergy reaction at school. We’ve created this list of tips to get you started.

Make an appointment with the allergist.
Discuss and update your child’s food allergy emergency plan for school, making sure the plan includes a photo of your child and your and the doctor’s contact information. Also, ask for any prescriptions that may need to be filled for the school.

Order a medical alert bracelet.
Along with your child’s name and allergy types, consider including that epinephrine should be given for a severe reaction.

Gather your child’s medical supplies.
Make sure all of your child’s medications are packed and ready to go to school. If it’s possible, provide the school with medications that will not expire; otherwise, make a note of the expiration date(s) on a calendar, so you’ll be ready to replace them before the expiration date.

If your child won’t have an epinephrine auto-injector on him/her at all times, provide one to the school nurse, your child’s teacher and any other school staff who will spend time with your child. The epinephrine container should be labeled with your child’s name, photo and emergency contact information.

Develop emergency plans with the school.
Speak with the school’s staff and make emergency plans for different scenarios, like snack time, lunchtime, classroom parties and field trips. Remind school staff they should give epinephrine immediately, then call 911 in the event of a severe allergic reaction.

Attend the school meeting.
Ask questions related to your child’s food allergy, including:

  • Where is the food kept, and where will your child eat?
  • Are tables cleaned with disposable disinfecting wipes? Sponges can spread allergens.
  • Which staff oversees snack and lunchtime, and do they discourage food sharing?
  • Can teachers give you several days’ notice of food-related events, including birthday parties?
  • Is food used as a reward in the classroom, and if so, can alternative rewards be given?
  • Are kids urged to wash their hands, instead of using hand sanitizer, before and after eating? Hand sanitizer gels do not remove allergens.
  • Is training provided to teachers on how kids describe allergic reactions (e.g. kids may say their food tastes spicy, tongue feels hot, mouth feels itchy or funny, or lips feel tight)?

Write a letter to other parents.
Your letter should include the allergies your child has, what can cause a reaction and the serious effects of a reaction. Explain cross contamination and how preventative measures can keep your child safe.

For year-long tips, read “Going to School With Food Allergies” at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital website.


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Swimming in Your Neighborhood Pool

Prácticas de Piscina By Asdrubal Velasquez (Visionado on FLICKR)


I rejoice when the weather is warm enough to swim! Swimming is one of the most healthful ways to exercise, and is broadly enjoyed by people of all ages, from babies to the aged. People can get into the pool and enjoy themselves so much that they don’t even know how much beneficial aerobic (heart-pumping) exercise they’re getting.

Aerobic exercise itself has important health benefits: it reduces harmful inflammation linked to many diseases; lowers stress; lowers blood pressure; strengthens muscles (including the heart), and can even help smokers to quit. In fact, swimming is one of the most highly-recommended types of aerobic exercises, according to Johns Hopkins exercise physiologist Kerry J. Stewart, Ed. D. In addition, it’s one of the best exercises for older adults, as it’s easy on the joints.

Most swimmers in Howard County don’t have access to natural bodies of water, such as lakes or the ocean, so we swim in the neighborhood pool, kindly supplied by Columbia Association, one of the neighborhoods in other towns, or by a private owner. The water in these pools needs to be carefully maintained for cleanliness, because the people splashing around bring bacteria into the standing water of the pool. The operators of these pools add chemicals to the water. Without chlorination, health risks would prevent our swimming in a pool.

Most pool operators maintain water cleanliness with chlorine-based chemicals, then test the water for the correct balance of pH (acid-alkaline balance) and chemicals several times throughout the day. Although several alternatives to chlorine exist, each has a disadvantage, including a substantial differential in price. So additions of chlorine seem to be the default choice for water cleanliness.

But chlorine use has its side affects: it’s drying to skin and hair, and may make swimmers’ eyes redden and burn. Some some people are undeniably allergic to chlorine; some people suspect chlorine of causing serious diseases of the respiratory tract or even cancer; but research on these serious side effects is not conclusive.

But (sniff) what’s that sharp smell? Smells like too much chlorine!

Actually, that smell is the result of inadequate amounts of chlorine. Here’s the science: molecules of chlorine combines with molecules of nitrogen or ammonia being thrown off our bodies (organic matter). This is what smells bad. Whenthere is more chlorine in the water, the chlorine can do its job and the odor should be minimal. It’s inadequately-chlorinated water that is most irritating to the skin and eyes, and may be implicated in swimmer’s ear, a common ear infection due to constantly-wet ear canals and bacteria in the water.

And why is the water so cloudy? It’s due to any combination of these events: particles forced out of the water by imbalanced water, poor filtration or sanitation, or heat. Hot days can contribute to cloudy water.

Unless there are other health-related risks, the health benefits, fun, and social value of swimming far outweighs the disadvantages posed by chlorine. One of the rites of summer is swimming, especially out of doors on a hot Maryland day.

The Center for Disease Control’s Triple A’s of Healthy Swimming go into depth on ways to keep everyone healthy when in the water. The most important and easiest of these include:

  • Staying out of the water if you are ill, especially illness of your digestive tract. Also stay out of the water if you have a cut or other break in your skin. Being aware of potential water-borne problems.
  • Showering before you swim to rinse off the organic materials on your skin. This way, you won’t be contributing to what the chlorine as to break down.
  • Regular bathroom breaks for children and adults are crucial. Urine, after all, in another organic material.
  • Protecting yourself with eye goggles, an after-swim shower, shampoo, and body moisturizer.
  • Questions to ask the pool operator: “Are chemical levels checked at least twice per day, or more often when the pool is heavily used?”, “What is the latest pool inspection score?”, and “Has the pool operator completed specialized training in pool operation?”Have a great swim!
Jean has recently retired from Howard County Library System. She also swims at four different Columbia Association pools each summer.

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