“You don’t LOOK depressed.”
“Chin up, it’ll get better.”
“Count your blessings, you didn’t think you’d ever have another baby!”
“Keep a stiff upper lip.”
“But you have so much to be happy about. Cheer up!”
The well-meaning words bounce around my head until I feel like screaming. The guilt is thick and I am the one who has laid it on. I know I should be busy counting my many blessings but the darkness is too heavy. I can barely breathe let alone count anything.
Every day isn’t like this. Most days are amazing. But the bad days are really bad. They are dark and lonely. They make me remember the early days when I was alone, at home, with two small girls, praying that someone, anyone, would ring my doorbell and come hug me.
No one did.
And, on the rare occasion that someone would come over, I put on a brave face. I smiled even though every cell in my body was crying. I reassured those around me that I was fine. I wasn’t though. I was desperately lonely and utterly ashamed. I didn’t want to burden them with my problems. Instead, I encouraged them to vent to me. I could hide in their problems.
What I didn’t want to admit to them or myself was, I had postpartum depression and severe anxiety.
Just typing that makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want the stigma. I don’t want to look into any more sad eyes as people speak to me like I am going to shatter. I don’t want the advice or trite phrases. I just want to be able to look at myself and feel ok. I just want to wake up and be happy every day.
We tried to have a second baby for two years. In that time I lost three pregnancies. Each loss ripped a piece of my soul away. Eventually, we stopped trying. I couldn’t handle another loss. I needed to focus on my daughter, my husband, and myself.
When we found out I was pregnant I felt numb. Terror would seep in and I would push it down. I couldn’t allow myself to become excited. Excited meant I had opened my heart up and I would likely have it crushed, once again. So instead, I let myself feel nothing. The first heartbeat made my own heart race as I pushed away relief and harshly warned myself not to get my hopes up.
By the middle of my second trimester I allowed myself to feel a little excited, hopeful. In the back of my mind though, I was panicking. I didn’t know if I could handle another lost baby.
I gave birth at 37 weeks to a healthy baby girl. She was (and still is) perfect. A wave of relief washed over me. I could finally allow myself some happiness. I breathed her in and immersed myself into loving her. I slept next to her and wore her on me during the day. I couldn’t bear to be away from her. I felt cheated of the closeness and bonding I should have experienced during pregnancy. My fear of losing her prevented me from enjoying that brief time in which we were one.
Six weeks after she was born I started having some anxiety. I worried about her safety and health. I worried about my husband and older daughter. I worried that something would happen to me and my exclusively breastfed baby would starve. The worry turned to panic. I started having panic attacks. Up to three or four a day.
Then, the darkness. The desperate sadness and loneliness crept in. I wrote and talked with my husband. I worked through it and kept a happy and brave outward appearance. I couldn’t let my daughters know how awful I felt. I didn’t want their earliest memories of me to be sad ones. So, I pushed through.
Months and months passed. The darkness lifted and the anxiety faded. I thought I was better. I started to talk about it more, always in the past tense. It felt less exposing if I talked about it like something I had overcame and not something I was battling.
But I was still battling it. As I helped other women to feel better about themselves, as I held the hands and rubbed the backs of friends who were fighting the darkness, I was fighting it too. It was better than it had been but I was far from being fine.
Recently, a few events have triggered a resurgence of feelings. Anxiety has come knocking and I have days washed in darkness. I find myself going back to my old habit of playing the role of the strong and stoic woman. The I-got-this-thing-beat mom.
But the reality is, I still have a lot of work to do. I don’t feel strong or even ok. I feel weak and tired and sad and lonely. I feel embarrassed and angry. Sometimes, I feel like someone else entirely.
I know I will get through this. I know I will come out the other side stronger and better equipped to help others. But right now, at this moment, I just want to climb into bed and retreat. I want to wave my white flag of surrender.
I won’t. I can’t. All I can do is focus on my own recovery and share my journey. All I can do is keep pushing through and hope that by choosing to finally talk candidly about my struggles, I will help at least one other woman to not feel as alone as I did. All I can do is be the best mom I can be and learn to ask for help when I need to. All I can do is take a deep breath and fight like hell.
The darkness is heavy and it is thick. It makes it hard to breathe and clouds my mind sometimes. But, I have three bright beacons of light and hope. I have my girls and husband who love me and lift me up when it all gets to be too much for me to carry. I will focus on that. I will focus on them. I will focus on me and I will beat this.