The bathroom stall wall is cold against my forehead. I focus on that feeling of cold, solid against my warm flesh. I focus on what is real. The ground beneath my feet. The purse, heavy on my left shoulder. I breathe in, “I am strong.”
I breathe out, “You can do this.”
I breathe in, “stop crying now.”
I breathe out, “You are in control.”
I breathe in, and as I focus on my breath, I blindly grab a tissue from the plastic holder and blot away the tears as I breathe out.
I am standing in a bathroom stall at a restaurant just south of Dallas, Texas and I am crying. How in the world did I get to this point?
I think through my day. We woke up at the hotel and ate breakfast. My boys were well-behaved, my husband happy. All was fine then. We went to my daughter’s swim meet. It was hot, the air full of chlorine, and there were many people making lots of noise. I think I was fine then. We went to IKEA, and it was very, very crowded. Every time I stopped walking, someone would be on my heels, or a stroller would stop just short of mowing me down. My son was hanging on one side of me the entire time. My other son was pulling my arm forward the entire time. I was not fine then.
And then it was time to eat. And we walked in to this restaurant. The noise of people happily chatting became a loud, raucous sound in my head that made it hard to hear individual voices. The haze started to slide down my vision like a screen being pulled down. The menu was so full, there were way too many options. And the waitress asked what I wanted to drink, and though I could barely hear her, I knew the routine.
“Water,” I whisper as I avoid eye contact. She doesn’t hear me and my husband has to repeat my order because I cannot look up at her, I cannot look at anyone. I stare at my phone like I have some online conversation I am too wrapped up in to focus on my family, but I don’t. I am just trying to look normal. I am just trying to keep the tears away, but I can’t. And as they start to flood down my cheeks, I stand up and quickly make a beeline for the safety of the bathroom. I am fairly certain I knocked into a woman in a sari on my way here. I couldn’t see through the haze, and there were so many people I couldn’t look at.
And here I am, head pressed against the cold metal of a bathroom stall. A tissue is blotting the tears as quickly as they come, pitifully trying to make them disappear. I try to get a grip, and that is when I realize what is happening.
It is back. It is back. Oh, dear God, it is back.
And I stifle a sob, and I breathe, and I breathe. It is back.
It is back. And although the words flow through my mind and I realize with perfect clarity why I am standing in this stall crying for nothing, I dare not speak the words out loud. It is back, and it is worse than before. I breathe in, and I breathe out. And I open the door. And I wash my hands. And I walk back to the table- eyes averted down. I sit down. I lie to my son when he asks if I am okay. He is smarter than he needs to be and after I reply, “I am fine,” he replies, “no, you’re not. “
And I tell him that I love him and I watch as he and his brother play a game on the table of the restaurant. And when the waitress comes to take our order, I whisper the daily special, the sides I want, and when she asks for a clarification, I look down at the table and my husband replies for me. I was not prepared to say another word.
I am not okay. It is back.
We get back to the car, and I am so grateful to be in the quiet, peaceful, nobody I don’t know, nobody crowding me, I don’t have to say a word or pretend that I’m okay. I tell my boys that mommy is tired, and I am actually exhausted from what has happened to me. I fall asleep on the way home. I wake up, and the fog that rolled down like a movie screen is just a light mist now, and I can pretend to be okay.
Night falls, and the children go to sleep. I tell my husband, through the mist of “It” and the shame of what I must say, “It is back.”
“Fix it,” he retorts.
And I stare at him in shock. I just told him what I can bear to tell nobody else, and this is the reply I receive. “I can’t just fix it,” I implore, “I am broken. Not like a broken ankle, but broken in a way that can’t be quickly mended. Just don’t worry about it.”
And my husband, who believes anything can be fixed with a pill, leaves the room. And I am finally alone with “It” – again.
And it is time to face what I am dealing with.
The first time I faced it was three months ago. I had delivered surrogate twins via an emergency C-section and was home, trying to physically and emotionally recover from the trauma of nine months of carrying twins and emergency surgery. I received an email from their parents accusing me of “exploiting” them. I cried. I cried. And I never stopped. My body tried to heal for six weeks, but the physical and emotional pain was just too great. “It” came as a dense, weighted fog, obsidian anguish rolling through my soul. It covered every thought with darkness and sent a veil of bleakness over my mind’s eye. I sat in my semi-dark house all day long alone, not wanting to talk to anyone, silent. I watched mindless TV shows so I wouldn’t have to think about the pain, the grief, the sorrow. The funny thing was, I had nothing to grieve over. I had nothing to feel sad about. I was just anguishing for nothing. And that’s when I knew something was wrong.
My doctor told me it would subside with time. Stay active. Exercise. Keep your routine. Don’t take on any extra work. You are strong. Just give it time.
I did all of those things, and it finally stopped. I was relieved.
And then last weekend happened. It has returned. This time, it didn’t roll in like thick fog. This time, it crept in like an evil twilight mist. Thin and gray, it slithered right into my soul unseen, and then, like the mist that rolls in off the ocean, became thick fog without warning.
I sit on the side of my bed. Broken. Afraid. Overwhelmed. Indecisive. These are the words that I use to describe myself now.
Utterly ridiculous though it seems, it has completely eradicated the person that I used to be.
I am 1220 words into this essay, and I still haven’t been able to bring myself to speak “It’s” name because I am so ashamed. Because it is so misunderstood by anyone who doesn’t know it. Because even I scorned the women who had it. Because it is so hard for somebody strong, determined, decisive, and proud to admit to such a weakness.
Sometimes I weep over the grocery list because I just don’t know, because I just can’t.
Sometimes I spend thirty minutes in my closet trying to decide what to wear because I can’t figure out how to choose.
Sometimes I stand in the kitchen staring at the counter because I can’t figure out what I should cook my family for dinner.
Mostly, I don’t go to social gatherings because it is too hard to be around people.
Often, I cry over nothing.
Often, I spend my day with a floating, quivering, invisible haze over my eyes like a dirty shower curtain I can’t quite see through.
Every day, getting out of bed in the morning is as difficult as it used to be to take a college level exam because I have to psych myself up to swing my legs over the side of the bed and face the day.
Every day, I feel anguish and loss for nothing.
Every day, I come home exhausted because just making it through the day without crying or hiding or running away has taken every bit of energy I had.
Every day, I know I am broken.
Every day, I know nobody I know will understand.
Every day, I am the unseen face of postpartum depression.