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'My Mental Illness Didn't Stop Me' - Jennifer

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She did not expect her darkest days to arrive with the birth of her first child.

She never thought severe anxiety, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) related to post-partum would take over her life.

She certainly did not ask to become of a voice for mothers struggling with an illness that is often misunderstood and heavily stigmatized.

But Jennifer is not only happy to take up the cause, she’s determined to be heard.

“We need to stop lying to each other,” says the 32-year-old musical theatre and drama teacher at Pickering High School.

Jennifer, who grew up in Bowmanville and now resides in Oshawa, feels society sets up many new mothers to fail. The notion that having children is magical and each day is filled with joy is one that needs to be dispelled, she says.

“There is so much guilt that you are not meeting the expectations of being the perfect mommy,” says the Queen’s University graduate. “There’s this image in the media of what being a mother is supposed to feel like and I feel others perpetuate that stereotype  by not sharing any of their negative experiences or feelings.”

As she struggled, she too remained silent.

“I was too scared to say anything,” she says. “Everyone treated me like a new mom who was nervous.”

As things deteriorated at home, Jennifer realized she needed more intensive treatment. Through a community group, she was referred to Ontario Shores’ Women’s Clinic, which is an outpatient consultation service which supports  women diagnosed with post-partum depression, post-partum psychosis or those with a serious mental illness who require support with family planning, pregnancy, child-rearing, premenstrual syndrome, menopause or medication induced hormonal changes.

At the point when she visited Ontario Shores for the first time, Jennifer’s illness had reached a point where she in dire straits.

“I was so close to a breakdown, I was open to everything.”

She recalls her first visit to the clinic being difficult, but almost instantly therapeutic because of the way she was treated by the multi-disciplinary team that attended her first appointment.

“It was tough to go there and ‘re-hash’ everything all over again,” she admits. “But they explained the whole-team approach and how everything would work. They never made me feel like anything was wrong with me. They made me feel like I was normal.”

As she began her recovery journey and became more educated about her illness, Jennifer says she has learned to rely on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to assist her in managing her health.

“The thoughtfulness and clarity CBT provides is invaluable to me,” she says of the treatment tool which helps identify and track thoughts, moods, challenges and opportunities. “CBT has given me power over my illness.”

Jennifer continues to work on managing her mental health, while also balancing her career and life as a wife to her husband, Jordon, and mother to their young son, Dax.  Since coming to Ontario Shores she has been open about her struggles with others and is eager to share her experiences and change the conversation mothers, and especially new mothers, are having each day.

“Life as a mother is more than just what you see on Facebook and Pinterest,” she says. “When my son was born I could look after his physical needs, but emotionally I didn’t think I could do it. At times I felt hopeless, angry, resentful and isolated.  It’s OK to feel this way.”

“As mothers we need to share our ‘real’ experiences and support each other. We can’t keep feeding the stereotype.”

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