People out in public like to observe my full hands and declare all sorts of unsolicited stuff, right in front of my five children. But one of the worst I receive is certainly “I’d kill myself if I were you!” (Yes, I’ve really heard this. Thankfully I can still count on my fingers the number of times, but each occurrence stings just as strongly as the first.)
These types of comments took off with the arrival of my third, and coincidentally, I experienced my first intense bout with postpartum depression around the same time. After that, the words “I’d kill myself” will forever sound different in my ears because for a moment, they were an actual thought in my mind.
With every pregnancy and each post-delivery season, hormones seem to run untamed. They can sneak up on you and knock you out with a good cry at any given moment. But this was different. Nearly three months after number three was born, the sudden sadness wasn’t something I could shake.
A regular morning made it more than apparent that there was a serious problem. One day I simply woke up and went to empty out the dishwasher, thinking that the dishes were clean from the night before. When I opened the door, the racks of dirty, stank dishes looked back at me, and I collapsed. I literally fell to the floor in defeated tears, repeating over and over again, “I can’t do this.”
Sure, it wasn’t a fun way to start my day, but I knew it shouldn’t have been enough to ruin it and bring me to my knees on the kitchen floor, sobbing, and feeling like there was no solution. I couldn’t do this, but I also couldn’t run. What could I do? My thoughts briefly went off toward the unthinkable.
I never understood the term postpartum depression before this moment. When I would hear of it, I admittedly would think things like, “What is she so sad about—that the baby was born?” or, “Just toughen up and do what you gotta do, mama.”
But this memorable morning made it perfectly clear: this depression wasn’t a sadness based upon any circumstance or inability to mother; this was an envelopment of overwhelming defeat, darkness, and confusion. This was not me.
After spending several minutes hysterical on the floor, I managed to get up and peer out the kitchen window. The spot over that sink was known to provide a perfect bird-watching display. It took everything I had to stand up off that floor. I thought, maybe there’ll be something perched there to cheer me up. But there was nothing. Not a single bird—no sparrow, house finch, or crow—nothing. Just a tree full of bare branches pale from a rough winter. I was ready to flop back down when suddenly a beautifully colored blue jay swooshed in, hovered, and landed on the perch right in front of me. He stared at me and cocked his head to the side. He knew it, too—this wasn’t me.
That night, I told my husband my concerns and admitted I may need some help (the very thing that I’ve never been great at requesting). He swooped right in with the most amazing unconditional support—he called our pastor friend who had a name and number for anything you might need. Sure enough, we were pointed toward a Christian counselor that was willing to come to us. In just a matter of days, I was seeing a professional who was able to assure me that this was OK, even normal, and most importantly, fixable.
Out of that experience, the words depression, suicide, and mental illness have taken on a drastic reforming in my thinking. I had been there now and it was not a pretty sight—certainly not a place I’d ever wish to revisit, and never, not ever, wish it upon someone else.
So now, years later, when I’m happily out in public with my five little ones, and someone announces that if he were me, he’d kill himself . . . it’s just not funny. However, I can write it off as an oblivious insult (and just pray it goes straight over the kids’ heads). I can also be on the lookout for those mamas, worn down with defeat at the dollar store or subtly seeking support on social media, and simply put a hand on their shoulder and say, “This is not you, but it’s going to be OK.”
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