"I want you to know that you're validated in this...that this is very much a real thing, and that we're going to get you feeling like yourself again". These were the words my doctor told me as she just diagnosed me with a severe depression and anxiety disorder. My husband held my hand as my 1 year old played with the toys on the floor, oblivious to the magnitude of what was happening around him. When those words rushed over me, the tears came like a flood. Tears of relief. Tears of pain. Tears of hope.
You're validated in this. This is real.
Those were the words I had longed to hear for over a year. Why had I waited so long to ask for help? Why did I ignore the signs again and again? In one simple word, it was pride. In my mind, I was the last person that would ever be diagnosed with depression. Nope, not me. I'm happy and normal and not crazy. There's nothing to see here, folks.
The month of May is mental illness awareness month. It's taken a lot for me to even admit that I fall into the "mentally ill" category, but the Lord in His generosity held my hand through it all. By His grace, He's healed my prejudices and given me the strength to accept this particular cross willingly. Before I get into the details, I ask that you read my words through a compassionate lens. This is extremely difficult for me to relive, but I think it needs to be said. I've realized we need to be comfortable with talking about the hard stuff so that we can help others who are struggling in similar situations.
I should also preface my story by saying I'm a good mom. I love my son with every fiber of my being. I would give my life for him. I've made daily sacrifices for his wellbeing and will happily give more. Depression is...a suffocating creature. It twists your mind into believing disgusting things that you have no control over. It's a disorder that traps you into thinking that the only way out is by escaping from it all. The symptoms are vast and differ from person to person leaving no story the same. This is mine:
It was our first Sunday mass outing as a new family of three. I placed my beautiful one-week old son in his carseat. Immediately after snapping the last buckle, I collapsed right there in the church parking lot. All of a sudden there was a massive weight on my chest and I could barely breathe or stand. Brad and my mom came running to me with worried looks, and I naively laughed it off like it was no big deal. I told my OB about the incident, but confidently stated there was no way it could be anxiety or depression -- I'm doing great! I'm baking muffins and going on walks and enjoying all the new baby snuggles. What was there to be anxious about? She ran some tests, thinking it was a postpartum heart condition, and asked me to wear a heart monitor for the next month. The results were inconclusive and I brushed it off again, thinking it was all in my head.
The weeks went by. I was engulfed in an unfamiliar world of diaper changes, sleep deprivation, and nursing marathons. My husband worked long hours, and I was often left fumbling alone with a newborn. Some days when Pier would smile up at me, I didn't smile back. Immediately, a chill went up my spine. What kind of mother was I? I was starting to resent my baby...my sweet baby. My baby who refused to sleep, who needed me and only me, and who was absolutely too much work for me to take care of. Sometimes when I held him it would feel like bugs were crawling all over me...just the thought of picking him up when he cried was unbearable. The words, I can't do this any more often crept into my mind. There were even moments I would dream about leaving Pier in his crib and driving off, never looking back. They are better off without me...they deserve so much more than I can give. It was when I was alone, left with only my thoughts and a screaming newborn as company, that these terrifying lies invaded my mind. I was scared...But I still said nothing.
I was doing all the right things. Exercising, eating my fruits and veggies, taking probiotics, praying constantly...and it did help. But there would still be days where that weight on my chest would crush me. I never vocalized any of it because I didn't recognize that there was even a problem. Looking back, I think I've always had a small history of anxiety and panic attacks. But I always credited those moments to fluctuating hormones stirring up some female-crazy. It's harmless, right? These sort of things are normal in every woman's life...right?
On June 1, 2016 things got from bad to worse. Every unseen moment was spent in my bed crying, aching for some way out. I was terrified of being left alone. There were moments that I would beg my husband to never leave my side and, through tears, plead with him to stay home from work for the day. Little everyday tasks like leaving the house (even to go out in the backyard), cooking and baking, or putting away the groceries were overwhelming to me and it got to the point that I physically could not do them. I remember one day coming home from grocery shopping and breaking down in front of my family. I dropped the food, rushed outside, crouched down with my head between my legs, and began to sob uncontrollably. It was a panic attack -- the worst one yet. I was shaken to my core afterward. You would think that I would schedule a doctor's appointment that very minute, but still, my pride got the best of me. Why can't I just "snap out of it"? This is ridiculous. You're being so dramatic.
To the outside world I was smiling and constantly seeking to be admired as a perfect wife and mother. But on the inside? On the inside, I was crippled. My mind enslaved to bleak darkness...a darkness so encompassing that I knew the only way of deliverance was by relying on Christ alone. The main comfort I had during that time was meditating on our Lord's passion. I knew He experienced an unfathomable darkness in the Garden of Gethsemane. I imagined I was sitting with him, praying weakly, as the apostles slept. I shifted my focus on being thankful -- thankful for His sacrifice and allowing me to share in a small part of it.
It was Jesus who gently got me through. He guided the voices of dear family and friends to encourage me to seek help. By July 2016, I scheduled my doctor's appointment and was officially diagnosed. It's strange...when reflecting on the past 10 months, I realized that the first year of my son's life was both the happiest and the darkest time of mine. It's a paradox: you are filled to the brim with joy and love for this beautiful, innocent baby and yet, you dread living out your days with him. You dread the morning because that means you have to take care of someone else when you can barely take care of yourself. You dread the evenings because that means you have to wake up the next day and do it all over again. You dread picking up a screaming baby because you're going to loose it any second and you're scared about what might happen if you do. You begin to resent your vocation, and your family suffers greatly because of it.
It wasn't until I got on medication that I realized just how very bad off I was. Is this how a typical mother feels? Is this what it's like to live my life again? It was night and day. True, I still have overwhelming days, hard days, and frustrating days like any mother does...But I can handle them now. I can function.
Before having Pier, I had never met anyone with postpartum depression. I never heard anyone talking about it and I was never warned about the symptoms. That's why I decided to write these details out...in the hopes of helping those of you feel discouraged by an illness that you have no control over. The crippling darkness is not normal y'all, and if you think it is, then please talk to someone. I am personally encouraged by others who share their own PPD stories and hope that if you recognize yourself in my own account, to seek professional help. I want you to know that you aren't alone in your suffering. Rest in the knowledge that the Lord never abandons His precious daughters in their trials and trust with absolute certainty that you are loved beyond measure. There is always hope. Always. God's peace be with you.