Last May I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety.
I vividly remember getting the news. I half expected it, and I told my very supportive doctor I wasn’t surprised, as tears streamed down my face. Even though I suspected it, it was like a punch to the gut, a slap in the face and a blow to the ego. It validated all my irrational thoughts. Only a few weeks into parenting, and I was already a failure.
For the first time ever in my life, I encountered something I couldn’t handle: motherhood.
Simply put, I didn’t have the skills, the mental fortitude, the wherewithal. I wasn’t cut from the right cloth, the mold rejected me, spit me out and left me to rot on the bottom of a broken down shoe, frayed at the toes and splitting at the seams.
In the very beginning, the baby and I struggled to nurse. Suddenly words like poor latch, tube feeding, lactation support, tongue tie, and underweight dominated my thoughts. This went on for weeks until the Hubby, my own doctor, and my family all gave me permission to stop breastfeeding because they could see the toll it was taking on me and the baby.*
Nursing wasn’t our only battle either. We struggled to sleep, staying awake one long day for nine straight hours. I was home alone with an overtired wailing baby, exhausted and starving. Seven hours in, I sent frantic rage texts to the Hubby who was working, while I hid in the closet with my hands over my ears and Ave screamed in her crib. The shame was all encompassing, and even now this day haunts me.
Suffice to say, the baby and I struggled. We struggled to nurse. We struggled to sleep. We struggled to breath. We struggled to live.
There really is no preparation for those first few months of motherhood. Once the adrenaline wears off, the sleep deprivation kicks in, along with uncertainty, extreme emotional swings, a complete lack of control, unpredictability, and the mourning of your former life. Throw in a crying infant and suddenly your world is completely upended.
I found myself in a dark, damp tunnel, with no light at the end. The walls oozed with decay, rot and the claw marks from my fingernails as I tried unsuccessfully to scratch my way out.
I wanted to run away.
At the same time, I couldn’t bear to be separated from my child. Quick solo trips to the grocery store were fraught with feelings of fleeting freedom and an overwhelming, almost crushing anxiety. The longer I was gone, the more tense I would become. A one hour pedicure was agony, as my fingers drummed out the minutes on the side of the chair, becoming increasingly demanding. Even as I tried to relax, all I wanted was to get back to her. She. Needed. Me.
I’d jolt awake, panicked, in the middle of the night, convinced I rolled over in bed and crushed my baby, despite the fact she never slept in our room. Instead I would be gripping the cat in terror, as milk leaked out of my swollen breasts.
When she cried, I’d sweat and my skin would crawl with the steps of a thousand ants swarming my entire being. Even when she was sleeping peacefully, I’d hear her cries echoing through my head.
I was trapped in my own body and with my own mind.
I longed to be able to sheath my skin like a snake, step out of it’s shell, and run far, far away.
I was irritable and short tempered, and I felt the waves of failure crashing upon me minute by minute. “I. Can’t. Do. This. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” became the mantra in my head.
I had outbursts of rage which left me weak and screaming red faced into a pillow or wanting to put my fists through walls. I needed a physical escape, something to bear the weight of my hostility, anger, sadness and anxiety.
I needed to be someone other than me.
Simple suggestions felt like harsh criticism and words of encouragement made me feel like a fraud. The phrase, “you’re doing a great job,” brought a flood of tears because nothing could be further from the truth.
(Photo Credit: My Luce)
In the weeks leading up to that fateful doctors appointment, I often wondered if I was losing my mind. I thought there was a chance I was suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety, although I didn’t identify with the popular definition. Despite everything, I loved my kid, and I had no desire to hurt my baby or myself. I simply wanted to leave and never come back.
After the diagnosis, I left with a prescription for an anti-depressant in one hand and support hot lines in the other. Despite literal fistfuls of help, I felt shame. So much shame. Shame for not being able to will my darkness away, for not being able to put on a happy face, and mostly for not being a better mother to my baby.
I almost didn’t take the pills thinking I could work through this on my own. In the end, rationality won, and I took the medication. I opened up to my friends and family, and I made my weekly lactation meetings a priority. I recognized I needed help and I took it like a drowning woman clinging to a life preserver. I saw the strength in seeking support, and I let it heal me.
I still have fleeting moments of anger and anxiety, although I’m in a much better head space now. The dark and damp tunnel is gone, a distant memory, one I hope never to revisit.
Most importantly though, I know I’m a kick ass mother, and my kid is lucky to have me. My old mantra is gone, replaced by “I’ve got this.”
I’m sharing this because writing about it is cathartic and I want other women who experience the same thing to know they are not alone, and it’s completely normal. If you find yourself struggling, ask for help. There is no shame in it.
*Despite our issues in the beginning and against all odds, Ave and I are still breastfeeding. I’m happy to pen another post on that topic if it’s something you’re interested in reading.
Thank you for letting me Think Out Loud, Ms. Amanda.
Have you ever dealt with mental health issues? Tell me about it.