Now that you all know where my “handful of sand” came from (literally and figuratively), I guess a good place to start now is the “beginning” of my journey through Post-Partum Depression and Anxiety (PPD&A). For me, it began with… a diaper.
I know that probably comes as a surprise, but it really is the truth!
My son was around 6 months old. Honestly, when I think back to that whole time period now, it all seems foggy to me, as does a sizeable chunk of that first year and a half after he was born… but what I remember with great clarity is the day I broke down over a diaper change. Being a mom of 2, I had changed many, many diapers before… obviously. Diapers of all shapes, sizes, and smells. But on that particular day, when faced with who-knows-what-number diaper, I just… couldn’t do it. I couldn’t wrap my head around HOW I could possibly change this diaper. It wasn’t an issue of reluctance or disgust… I just felt like it would be impossible to change it. I mean literally, physically impossible. Like I wouldn’t survive it. So I just… cried. I sat there on my living room floor with my 2 kids around me and broke down. I don’t even remember if I ever changed that diaper… but I DO remember that it was then that I knew this wasn’t “normal”- for me, for sure… but even in general. So, that began my journey to seek help…
That was the beginning of what has now been my reality for last 18 months, and counting… because my recovery is ongoing, even to this day.
Looking back, I now see that there were signs that came long before I ended up getting help. (‘They’ say “hind sight is 20-20” for a reason, right?) But I convinced myself that the sadness, loneliness, and anxiety were normal for this stage of life – you know: 2 kids, sleep deprivation, living in leggings and spit-up stained t-shirts. It was easy to believe that those negative feelings were normal, especially when others would say “Oh, that’s how it always is with 2 kids! You’ll get used to it eventually.” And I don’t blame people for saying that – not at all. For some, that is truly the case. They “get over it” on their own. Life with 2 kids IS harder in many ways. “This is just life now”… But it does make me wonder now about how comfortable we as women – as a society – have become with moms feeling alone, depressed, hopeless, anxious, overwhelmed, underappreciated, and… well, “crazy”… to any degree just because it’s “the way life is now.” Have we normalized these feelings and thoughts to such a degree that women talk themselves out of getting help? I know that was the case for me… I descended to such a dark, low, and depressed state of being – no, SURVIVING – before I realized that – wait a second, this is not “normal.” And, more than that, it was NOT okay, no matter how “normal” those feelings might have been. I realized that this should not be normal. I needed help. I couldn’t survive any longer believing that being a mom of 2 kids meant living this way… because I knew I couldn’t live that way much longer.
I didn’t want to cry myself to sleep every night wondering how I was going to make it through the next day – or if I even wanted to. I didn’t want to fantasize about just disappearing for a few hours (or days) until I could come back, “feel better,” and be the mom I was “supposed to be.” I couldn’t battle my loneliness and sadness alone anymore. I didn’t want to continue feeling like I was watching myself living my life, instead of actually living it. I couldn’t convince myself anymore that there was hope. It’s hard to imagine or explain, but I promise you that I could NOT remember what it felt like to feel hope anymore. Or even to feel genuinely happy, without a weight on my chest that made it hard to breathe – a weight comprised of my fears, sadness, and hopelessness. Actually, I lived in a constant state of a kind of shortness of breath from the darkness and panic that constantly pummeled me. I stopped noticing things like “cold” or “hot.” I basically just… existed. Barely.
After my breakdown over the diaper, I knew I had to get help. But even THAT was overwhelming… If I couldn’t change a diaper, how was I supposed to do research, find a therapist covered by insurance, then possibly a psychiatrist covered by insurance, etc… So, the first thing I did was open up to my family. Which wasn’t too difficult because, by that point, they could all tell something was going on. They formed the start of my own personal “support group.” My husband, mom, and sister – along with other close friends who – although I had isolated myself from – I contacted to let know to pray for me. I was blessed with finding an amazing therapist through a local “new moms meet-up group,” who is still my (amazing) therapist to this day.
I remember my first couple of sessions with her… I remember finally getting the chance to vent many of the scary, lonely, “crazy”, embarrassing, depressing, anxious thoughts and feelings I had been experiencing… I remember admitting my hopelessness, and that I hadn’t smiled or laughed in days. DAYS. I remember being terrified of what was to come, but even more afraid of continuing on alone. And I remember my counselor confirming what I had suspected- I had severe post partial depression and anxiety. Severe.
Sometimes there is a relief in getting a solid diagnosis. At least then you know what’s wrong, right? And I guess to a certain extent, I felt some kind of relief… like at least I wasn’t REALLY crazy, or maybe not quite as terrible of a mom as I thought I was, or even a little bit less alone…
But, for me, hearing those words opened my eyes to just how deep in a pit I really was. And that was utterly terrifying. Now- I’ve done some pretty scary things in my life – as a gymnast, I did flips over 4.5-inch balance beams, ran full-speed towards a vault table that I was supposed to flip over, swung around bars and let go only to flip some more and hopefully land on my feet… But… those few days in “the beginning” were legitimately the scariest in my life. I think that my diagnosis led me to give myself permission to finally acknowledge how DOWN I was feeling; to really feel and think the things that I had been attempting to block out…
My lack of motivation to get out of bed, even in the face of my kids’ needs. My want – no, NEED – to disappear sometimes, until I felt better. The reality that I couldn’t be left alone with my kids because I could very well have a breakdown and their needs would be left unmet. How things like banging my head against the wall seemed like a completely logical option to feel better in some moments. (Really… I’m not exaggerating. This really made sense to me at the time.)
After allowing myself to really feel and think those things, I felt more depressed and hopeless than ever. It felt like too deep of a pit to ever climb out of.
The good news? I did. Almost 2 years later, I’m still here. Still battling. But doing much better overall. The hard news? It was HARD. It still is. Sometimes I feel stronger for what I’ve gone through in this journey. Sometimes, I feel ruined… like I will never be the same. Most often, I just feel… tired. Of battling, of fighting in moments of fear or sadness. But, I’ll say it again – I’m STILL HERE. And that, my friends, is a miracle. THAT is why my “handful of sand” meant so much to me, and still does. THAT is why the “little moments” mean so much to me, and why I have to focus on them to get through each day, and sometimes just each hour. That is why I can look at my kids – at my son, whose birth (unbeknownst to him) led me on this journey – and I know I would do it all again for him, because HE is worth all this… They are worth all of this.
So, to moms out there who can relate to this at all… please know that although it is normal to feel soooo may things after giving birth (no, you’re NOT crazy!), it is also SO worth it to get help sooner rather than later. Please know that things may feel like they’re getting worse before they get better… Coming to terms with deep depression and anxiety is never easy and is downright scary, at times. BUT, it will get better. As my therapist told me many (MANY) times, “This Is Time-Limited.”
Post-partum depression and anxiety does end… eventually. But having a support team of family, friends, and a therapist helps tremendously. And if that’s too much to think about, just pick ONE person to let in. Just one. It helps to know you’re not alone. For me, having a journal helped – as I briefly mentioned in my last blog post, and will mention more in depth in the future. My PPD journal became my place to admit my raw, “horrible” thoughts and feelings in my darkest moments, and then revisit them again in my not-as-dark moments to remind myself what was and was not true. I will post a picture below so you can see a time when I did exactly that… I wrote down many of my hopeless “truths” in a moment of extreme sadness, only to revisit that page later on and see just how NOT true those things were… So, I wrote down that REAL truth on the following page. Then, in the many difficult moments that followed, I would look at those pages again and fight to remember what was REALLY true.
I’ll even give an example now, from something I battled this very week…
PPD&A “truth”: “I shouldn’t have started this blog… I stink at writing and thinking and being a mom, so what was I thinking? I’m not even better yet, so there’s no way I can help anyone. Life is still SO hard sometimes… is it even worth it to do this?”
REAL truth: “Sometimes the most helpful advice comes not from someone who has all the answers, but from someone who is still figuring them out. Share the things that you wish someone could have shared with you, or the things someone did share with you that helped you push through. Even if it helps one person, and even if you never know who it helped, it will be worth it.”