I didn’t think it would happen to me. These kinds of things happen to someone else. Not me. Never me. Most of my problems throughout my life have been self-inflicted. I believed if I managed things right, I could avoid things like postpartum depression. When it crept up on me, ever so slowly and subtly, I tried to deny it. I think it was difficult to recognize because, for me, it looked more like anxiety than depression.
PPD tiptoed into my life disguised ever so covertly as an ever-growing sense of anxiety. It lured me into a never-ending spin cycle of anxiety, but it felt normal to me because the anxiety circled around normal new-motherhood things.
Should I quit my job? Was my son was getting enough breast milk? Was he sleeping enough?
What I didn’t know was my anxiety wasn’t normal at all.
When my son was four months old, I attended a parenting class and learned that PPD manifests as anxiety in some women. But at the same time, I was weaning my son early due to some health issues. And as my milk dried up, so did my anxiety. Whew! Dodged that bullet.
That is, until I was staring down the barrel of a second pregnancy. I knew I needed to watch for postpartum depression, but I still thought I had a handle on this motherhood thing. I adopted a “whatever works” mantra for when baby came, crossed my fingers, and prayed.
I also called my therapist. We discussed symptoms to watch for and developed a plan to wean the baby if worse came to worst. Armed with a plan, I waited to see how things unfolded, fingers crossed.
But from the moment I brought the baby home, it was crystal clear everything was NOT okay. As the garage door swung closed behind me, I immediately collapsed into a ball of tears, completely overwhelmed by the task ahead.
How can I care for a newborn and a high energy, self-willed three-year-old all by myself all day every day?
I feel like I will drown if I’m left alone. Please don’t leave me alone.
Inevitably, my mother went home and my husband went back to work. Depression aroused anger, and eventually rage towards my supportive husband as I envied his ability to go to work and escape it all. I felt awful for feeling this way and tried to shove it down. But the feelings would not stay down. Eventually they came barreling out at him, and my children, in fits of rage.
The night that broke the camel’s back went like this. I impatiently paced the house, baby in arm, TV blaring in the background for the sole purpose of keeping my son out of my hair. I listened intently for the garage door creaking, signaling the return of my husband from work. I greeted my husband at the threshold with the plop of the baby into his arms. I turned away, without a word, and crawled under a blanket on the couch, hoping to disappear. Footsteps followed behind me. “Are you okay? How was your day?” he called after me.
I was mute. Tears blinding my eyes. The blare of the TV playing on my nerves.
I laid there, silent, a tense, awkward space growing between us. Finally, I mustered, “I can’t take this anymore.” In shame, I turned away and pulled the blanket back over my eyes. I heard distant pleas from my husband as he tried to talk to me, but I was too weary. His voice and the TV faded into the background as I entered a trance like state. In a near out-of-body experience, I watched as I argued with myself. Part of me pleaded to get up and talk to my husband, but I could not muster the strength to move or speak. 20 minutes, an hour passed? I’m not sure.
When I finally pulled myself off the couch, we decided it was time to try medication.
The night I took my first dose of medication, I had an anxiety attack. I begged my husband to let me stop taking it, insisting the meds only made things worse. He remained strong and persuaded me to commit to the meds for two weeks. We agreed if I wasn’t feeling better in two weeks I could stop taking them. I kept a journal of how I felt on the medicine.
How I felt on meds:
8/8/14 – Sad, depressed
8/9/14 – “Not quite here,” can’t get my bearings, I’m slow to respond
8/10/14 – Afraid to be myself
8/12/14 – Life feels overwhelming; I can’t enjoy things I expect to enjoy; I have a UTI
8/13/14 – low energy, even after a good night’s sleep
8/18/14 – I feel like a new person! I can actually respond calmly in a way I want to respond.
8/19/14 – The anger that was always just beneath the surface seems to be gone!
I was staggered at how much better I felt. I didn’t just feel like my old self, I felt like a new me. A better me. The mother I always wanted to be, but felt I could never quite become. And it felt so effortless.
Before my experience on medication, I thought that those who needed medication were weak. I had fallen for the stigma surrounding mental health, depression, anxiety, and especially medication. Unfortunately, certain faith communities perpetuate the stigma, claiming that if you just believe more, pray harder, and trust in Jesus, then you can overcome these things.
But this is myth. My journey through postpartum depression and medication-assisted recovery taught me that while circumstances and mindsets can contribute to depression and anxiety, they are not the only factors. PPD plays no favorites. Hormones and biochemical processes are completely out of our control. We cannot try harder, snap out of it, pray out of it. It is both a mental and medical condition. It’s like having an infection and willing our bodies to heal itself if we just get our act together.
I stayed on the medication for two years and ultimately, I felt I was given the precious gift of enjoying my children instead of resenting them, and the gift of ease and balance in my emotional state instead of having to work so dang hard to keep it together. I was given the gift of mercy when I realized postpartum depression was not my fault. I was given the gift of humility to take the help I needed.
If you are struggling emotionally to get through most days; if there are days where you feel that you cannot control your emotional responses; if you feel like motherhood is a type of hell on earth; perhaps, it’s time for you to reach out. Talk to a friend, a doctor, or a therapist. I know it’s scary. I know it feels humiliating. But you are not alone. There are many of us, about 20% of new mothers struggle with postpartum depression, according to the CDC. Get the help you need. You’ll be so glad you did.
Kate Laymon is a kindred mom finding her soul in the mess of motherhood. When she’s not caught in the spin cycle of motherhood, you can find her writing on her blog (www.katelaymon.com), working towards her certificate in Spiritual Direction and Soul Care, or out on adventures with her family in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.