I've been meaning to write this post for a few weeks now and am finally getting the time and courage to write it. The biggest reason why I am hesitant to write this is because part of me is still embarrassed. I actually don't mind having strangers read this, but I am embarrassed to have my friends and family read it. I have been struggling with postpartum depression. If I had diabetes or an autoimmune disease, would I feel embarrassed to share my struggles or be ashamed that I had to seek help or use medication to treat it? Probably not. I'm not a very private person (obviously) but many people look at depression as laziness and self-centered so I feel scared to admit that I am struggling with something that has those connotations.
struggled with postpartum depression, but this bout was significantly worse than the last time and I was unable to get through it the same way I did before. Let me tell you a few things about postpartum depression, from my perspective. I don't have a history of depression so I can't tell you if these things are relevant to other types of depression. Also, this is my experience so it may not apply to others' experiences with PPD.
What depression IS:
- REAL: With depression, you can't "fake it til you make it". Depression is not something you can "snap out of" or cure through service and positive thinking. For most of my life, that's what I believed. Oh sure, I'd experienced times of sadness and difficulty in my life, just like everyone else. I'd even had the "baby blues" after every baby during those first six weeks. This is different and it's very real. I absolutely believe in the power of positive thinking, but depression is an illness that can't be wished away by choosing to be happy.
- GUILT RIDDEN: I can't tell you how many times I've laid in bed, thinking, "My mom had eleven children and was always able to get out of bed in the morning with a smile on her face. Why can't I do that? I only have three kids! I'm a horrible mother/wife/person." Every thing I did produced a deep sense of guilt and I particularly felt the guilt in my life spiral out of control. I was constantly beating myself up about every little thing and the bruises kept getting deeper and deeper.
- SCARY: I was scared to be alone with my kids. Not because I thought I would hurt them (though some mothers dealing with PPD do feel this way) but because I knew that when I was the sole caretaker of my kids, it was up to me to do everything. The task of getting out of bed felt incredibly grueling so the thought of doing all of my normal tasks throughout the day while taking care of three small children on my own, was paralyzing. It was scary feeling this way and I knew that my children deserved better.
- LONELY: Admitting that you have depression is really humiliating. Especially when you have spent most of your life believing that depression is a weakness that can be cured by "getting over it" (you know what they say about karma...). It was really difficult trying to explain to David what was going on with me. David was sweet and supportive but he doesn't really understand what is going on. It's pretty lonely feeling like you're going crazy and you feel embarrassed to tell anyone. Finally talking to my friends, my doctor and to David about it really helped. I also asked David for help (he already helps out a lot!) and because he is wonderful and amazing, he jumped right into the roles that I was having a hard time filling. That took away so much of the burden of loneliness.
What depression is NOT:
- OBVIOUS: Someone who is depressed may not seem depressed. Please don't say to a person who is struggling with depression, "But you don't seem depressed!" Maybe you are trying to be supportive or positive by saying this. Like a sort of award for "hiding your pain well". For me, this kind of statement is dismissive of what was going on inside - maybe, like I was just making it up. Yeah, I was able to hide it well outwardly - until I couldn't anymore.
- GENERATIONAL: I've heard accusations that "moms today can't hack what we did when we were raising our kids!". This kind of statement is not fair. Look, motherhood is hard. I don't care who you are or when you were/are raising your kids. I have some theories about why motherhood is different for my generation. First of all, social media. I love social media. It is such a great way to share creativity, memories, recipes, funny videos and more. But it can sometimes feel overwhelming to see all the beautiful, great, amazing things that people are producing when you're struggling to wash your hair. Some of the best advice I got when I was in my darkest place, was from my sister, Heidi. She suggested that I take some time off from anything like that. No Instagram, no Facebook, no articles, no blogs. That's a hard thing to do when you are nursing a baby a LOT and tend to scroll through your phone during nursing sessions but it helped a lot to clear some of that from my life for a few days. The other thing that we deal with as moms today is all the pressure to "do more". Everyone is involved in everyone else's life when it comes to parenting. You have everyone policing your every move when you're a parent - pediatricians, people at the park, grocery store and post office, family members, neighbors. Then, there are countless newspaper articles, books, magazines, bulletins about what you should and shouldn't be doing to be a "good mother". Let that stuff go. As a major people pleaser, I certainly haven't mastered that, but I'm working on it.
- NORMAL: By "normal", I mean that I knew that something was not right because I was not myself. I love being a mom, I love my children and I love my wonderful husband but I was struggling to see what a good life I have. I knew that something was wrong when my sweet baby would look at me and smile and I didn't feel anything. I knew that this was serious when I woke up in the morning and was disappointed to be alive. These feelings are not normal. It was time for me to seek help.
- FOREVER: During the worst of my depression, I felt trapped. I felt like I was never going to get better. That this was my new "normal". It was awful. I felt like my kids and David would be better off without me. I knew that this wasn't true logically but I still thought it. I had to force myself to make a doctor's appointment because I knew that I couldn't keep living this way. When my doctor and I figured out a plan to help with the depression, I just started sobbing. Knowing that there was a light at the end of the tunnel was such a relief. I hope that anyone reading this and feeling these things, can recognize that you can and should seek help. Don't let things spiral out of control! Take care of yourself so you can be your best.
I want to end this by saying that I am feeling much better and much more myself now, but that doesn't mean that my problems all went away. After getting the help I needed, I am able to cope with normal life again. Nope, my kids aren't miraculously little angels now (in fact, I'm having to deal with "detoxing" them from all the TV they watched when I could hardly function). Our house is still a renovation mess and I still have a baby who doesn't sleep through the night, but getting help and taking medication, has made a world of difference for me. I am so grateful to have the resources like that to help me get through this time. If you have been struggling with similar feelings, I hope that this post has helped you will decide to make a plan to get help - whatever that entails. And if you love someone who is struggling with PPD, I hope that this post has helped shed some light on what your wife/sister/daughter/friend/etc. may be feeling.
And now I feel like I just wrote a college psychology paper... but I really did mean every word. :)