There’s no way this is postpartum depression. How could it be?
I remember thinking this to myself as I received the diagnosis seven months after my son was born.
I had been aware it could happen, especially since I had a history of anxiety. I had discussed the possibility with my husband a couple of times before and during my pregnancy. But, when the baby got here, weeks went by. Months went by. I felt exhausted and stressed but normal. I filled out the postpartum questionnaire each visit with ease and handed it to the medical staff. The woman at the desk had told me at my baby’s 6-month check-up, “This is the last time you’ll need to fill this out,” as I took it from her, thanked her, and smiled.
And then, out of nowhere, it hit me.
The anxiety that was typically under control was short-circuiting my brain. I felt on the verge of panic attacks every day. I became depressed about being anxious, crying every day and sinking into a dark fog. People would talk to me, but I wouldn’t really hear them. I was forgetful. My brain was moving at lightning pace, yet my words and actions were forced and hard, like moving through molasses.
It wasn’t until a friend asked me point blank how I was mentally that I finally started opening up about it.
She encouraged me to get help, and after a few days of fighting it, I decided it was the right thing to do.
I met with a counselor who was able to diagnose postpartum depression. Then, I met with my doctor who was able to help me with the next steps.
It was hard to talk about because I felt like it somehow made me a bad mom.
I felt guilty and embarrassed. Above all else, I felt ashamed.
And I think that is one of the biggest factors that stop people from getting help: the intense shame. But, mental health is extremely complicated and does not need to be compared to be validated. Our pain needs to be combated with compassion. We can see and support another in their pain while not shrinking away from our own. Sharing our experiences, shedding light on what hurts helps shut down the shame.
I was talking to my parents about it one day. Feeling very defeated, I said, “It just hit me like a ton of bricks.”
My dad looked at me and said, “Well honey, then you’re gonna pick it up one brick at a time and throw it back.”
That really stuck with me. I would stare at the bricks around me and be absolutely trapped in one spot.
The shame. The fear. The guilt. You name it, there was a brick for it.
But, no matter how many bricks there were, I only needed the strength to throw one at a time. I threw the shame away by combating it with the truth: this happens to so many women from birth into the first year postpartum. It can manifest in so many ways for so many different women, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
I threw the fear away by talking: to a counselor, to friends and family, to my doctor. I threw the guilt away by reminding myself that mental health is just as important as physical health and getting treatment in its various forms is admirable and the best option for myself and for my family.
Step by step, I threw those bricks back.
Some were easier to toss than others. Some required a lot more concentrated effort. But, I found the strength through faith, a treatment plan, an amazing support system, and lots of hope and prayer.
So, please, if you think you might be experiencing postpartum depression or any kind of mental illness, reach out to someone. It might not present in the typical way at the typical time. It might be something that requires professional help and treatment options. It doesn’t make you weak to ask for help or to seek out those resources. It doesn’t make you a bad parent, spouse, or sibling to admit when you need help.
I know it can feel like you’ve been blindsided. I know it can be tempting to try to compare your pain to others and to minimize it and push it into the dark. I know it can make you feel scared, vulnerable, and lost. I know it can feel like you’ve been hit by a ton of bricks that are weighing you down, threatening to crush you.
But, one day at a time, one brick at a time, we can throw them back, together.