My oldest sister, Chris, told me about this blog she thought I would like. Strange. I had just started reading this exact blog a few days before my sister mentioned it to me. Chris and I are like that. We often are separately coming to the same conclusions. It is starting to freak us out.
Chris thought I would like this blog. She was wrong. I don’t like it. I love it. The author of this blog is so clever and humble and sincere. She is insightful. She’s thought a lot about faith, and uses her faith to guide her every day. She has a family, and she also has Chronic Lyme Disease.
If you read her blog, you will see that she has made up some of her own theology. You don’t need to warn me about that. I know. I don’t limit my reading or listening to people who think just like me. I would not like to live that way.
I read her essays, and I get that she is intellectually out of my league. She is playing for the Brewers (during a winning season); I am still playing T-ball.
I’m not saying any of that because I need compliments. I’m saying it, because it’s true. Saying these things doesn’t make me insecure. It just makes me honest.
Some of my very favorite people in the world are cursed with a negative inner dialogue. All day they are tuned in to an unending loop of self-criticism. They negatively compare themselves to other folks, and reject their own awesomeness.
I thank God that tape is not playing in my own head. I am okay with my weaknesses. Other people’s awesomeness does not make me feel unworthy. It usually inspires me.
One thing this blogger/author said was that she has all these ideas floating by her each day, begging her to write them down. She says that need to put her thoughts into words is intense. She has a busy life, and a beautiful family. She has more thoughts than she has time. Sometimes she has to let thoughts go before they’re captured.
I cannot explain how much I understand this.
Sometimes people ask me if it’s hard to keep writing. It isn’t. It’s hard to NOT keep writing. But, I’m not an author, and I don’t write for a living. So, a lot of the time I’m forcing myself to attend to my responsibilities, and not write. Not writing is an act of self discipline.
This author I like talks a lot about her own mental illness. I’m inspired by her honesty. Scott and I were discussing this author and Robin Williams the other night. I said I thought that Robin William’s passing was creating this positive dialogue about mental illness. I told Scott I considered writing about my own experience with post postpartum depression; I didn’t know if that was selfish. Robin Williams death is so sad. I shouldn’t use his death as an excuse to shine the light on me.
Scott didn’t agree with me. He said that the more people talk straight up about mental illness and depression, the better. He said there is strength in honesty. He asked how we could help each other, if we weren’t being honest. I agree. I have always agreed with that.
I have never decided NOT to talk about my postpartum depression. For me, it is like the time I broke my finger. It happened. It hurt. It healed. It’s over. It isn’t relevant any more. Except, now I’m thinking that maybe sharing my story might be relevant for someone else. For someone who is living in it right now. My story might help someone who’s suffering to know that sometimes there is an end to it. Sometimes you heal.
I know it is not like that for everyone. Some people battle with depression, mood disorders or mental illness their entire lives. That takes courage.
Here’s my story:
When our third child, and first daughter, was born I could NOT stop smiling. Olivia was like Christmas every day for me. I loved her intensely. I would guess that the folks who know me the best would tell you that my knack for loving people intensely hasn’t always helped me. I have been known to love people so much that I start to believe their happiness, good health and well-being are completely on me. Their happiness and success are my responsibility alone. THAT is a lot of responsibility. I didn’t used to know that you can over-love people. You can. I have.
When we brought Olivia home from the hospital, life was sweet. I can honestly tell you that postpartum depression, or not, my 8 years as a stay-at-home mom were the BEST years of my life. They were also the hardest years.
I promise you that I didn’t take those years for granted while I was living them. Scott and I made a conscious effort NOT to do that. We would tell each other out loud, “remember to appreciate this moment. Some day they’ll be big.” Then, we’d just be quite for a bit and try to permanently burn whatever image was in front of us into our memory bank. It worked a little. I have a whole trunk full of happy memories with our babies that I like to think about and re explore when I have time.
I thought that not taking that time for granted meant that time would go slower. It didn’t. Time went just as fast as if I HAD taken those years for granted. I was right there, and now it’s gone.
When Olivia was born, Zeke was a baby too. He was 16 months old. Zeke didn’t take kindly to sharing his mom at first. We knew that’s how he felt, mainly because he said, “WAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!” All freaking day long. Every day. For many, many days. He was sad. Of course, I took his sadness to heart. I felt so guilty for giving him a sister.
Then, you had Eddie. Sweet, sweet, precious, ever-lovin’, never puts a sock in it, Eddie. Who’s bright idea was it to read to that kid in the womb?
Eddie was a very early talker. Once he started talking, he never stopped. Non. Stop. Chatter. 4-year-old chatter on top of WAHHHHHHHH!!!! On top of nursing an infant who was extremely attached to her mother. I think all those things together could have broken the toughest soldier.
I’m going to be really honest about something else. I’m saying this, because I know there’s someone else out there like me. Maybe I can help you avoid the same mistakes. I want to tell you that the other contributing factor to my temporary insanity was my habit of being too nice. I hope you don’t think I’m complimenting myself. I’m not. Being too nice is NOT a worthy attribute. Being too nice has nothing to do with being a good Christian, or being loving and kind. Being too nice is being weak. You know what else being too nice is? Being too nice is dishonest.
When we had three children under four, there were things I needed from Scott. There were things I needed Scott to do, and things I needed him to stop doing. Scott is my favorite person on this planet. I am his biggest fan. He only keeps getting better. I want you to know that. I wish I would have been more clear with Scott about how he could help me back then. He would have helped me too. I just needed to tell him how. I didn’t tell him, so without trying to, he made things worse.
Olivia was born in June. All summer long I could feel my mind slipping into something unfamiliar to me. I couldn’t explain what it was; it felt a little bit like despair.
Women with preschoolers, who are trying to keep the house clean, entertain the children and keep everyone fed and healthy are working like slaves. They are. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done. The only people who think that work like that is easy, are people who haven’t done it.
My anxiety and sadness seemed to intensify over time. I am an anxious person by nature, but I am definitely not a sad person. I started to develop irrational fears for our children’s safety. I remember at night giving myself lectures, “Normal people do not want to crawl in a crib with their babies. Your baby girl is safe. Stay in your own bed. Your baby is across the room. You will hear your baby when she cries. Just go to sleep. You need sleep. Sleep now, while your baby is sleeping.”
She would sleep, but I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t sleep, because I was worried that she might not sleep. Even though she was right there sleeping. It all makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
One night, when Olivia was about 4 months old I went out for supper with my sisters, Mom and Grandma. My sisters didn’t know how fragile my state of mind was. They thought we were going to have fun.
I watched my sisters interact with their beautiful baby niece, Olivia. I was jealous of how carefree and genuine they seemed. I was so full of fear and worry, that I couldn’t remember the last moment of sincere pleasure I had with my baby girl.
At some point in our dinner, I put my head down in my arms and I started to quietly sob. I know women cry. We’re emotional creatures. I am weird. I have never been prone to crying. My sisters rarely saw me cry. My role was to make them laugh. That day I cried.
I sobbed for a few minutes. Everyone around the table became silent. When I brought my head up, there were 6 women staring at me with tears pouring down their faces. Wow. Empathy. It is so precious. So many lonely women go through postpartum depression without love and understanding. Now, it’s so easy to see how God used His people to comfort and carry me.
I went back home after our dinner, and I cried some more. My sleeping became more interrupted and anxious as the weeks passed that summer. Eventually, I couldn’t sleep at all. Literally. I went several nights without one blessed minute of rest. Then, one morning I had a panic attack.
I have wished to God that there would have been just ONE occasion in my life before that point, where someone would have described a panic attack to me. I didn’t know they existed. Being completely unprepared and uninformed for one of the scariest moments of your life, makes the moment worse. Much worse.
Now, I am glad I had that panic attack. It was a turning point. Scott took one look at me that morning and he said, “You need help.” Scott downplays things. He is calm, and he doesn’t think in extremes. Scott is definitely not in the habit of asking for help. That day he knew we needed help. He was clearly in over his head; his wife would not be able to pick herself up by the bootstraps this time.
I told him I might need to go to a hospital. I explained that I thought there was a small chance I might be having a nervous breakdown. The real kind.
I can’t really remember everything that happened after that. I didn’t go to a hospital. I do remember staying with my parents. I remember my mom drawing me baths, and my dad hugging me and crying. I remember my sister, Chris, staying with me, and treating me like something fragile that needed to be encouraged and cared about. She was exactly right about that. All of those things helped.
Our Doctor put me on anti anxiety medication, and an anti-depressant. She told me I had postpartum depression, and that I should stay on the anti-depressant for a year, at least. I had never been depressed in my life. No one in my family had been clinically depressed either. All these words were new to us.
My parents found a friend at church to call me. This friend had gone through postpartum depression. She knew exactly what was happening to me. I clung to her. Every word out of her mouth was sacred to me. She told me what was happening to me was not going to kill me. She told me that I was not going to lose my children, and I would not need to live in a psychiatric hospital. She told me that I was NOT insane. Or, maybe I was, a little, but I could handle it.
I know now she was guessing at all those things. How could she really be sure of any of that? But, she knew what I needed to hear her say, and she said it.
Seriously, why had no one told me about any of this before? Never. Not one person had mentioned that I might lose my mind after I gave birth. That’s something I would have liked to have known.
I listened to my new friend, and I took great comfort in knowing that many people had gone through what I was experiencing. So many people, in fact, that there were books and other resources dedicated to the subject. I did what I always do when faced with a problem. I researched and read. I gathered information, and I followed the experts advice.
The medicine didn’t work right away. I was mentally weak. I wasn’t the confident person I had always been. I doubted my ability to do simple tasks, like drive to the grocery store. I would feel paralyzed by fear. “What if I ran our van off the road…on purpose? I don’t feel like I want to end my life, but what if I do?” I lost trust in myself.
I also had this gloom hanging over me. It’s hard to explain. I can’t remember exactly how it feels, and I am positive I don’t want to remember. Somewhere in one of the books I read, a person said that I could embrace my suffering. This person said to acknowledge that things aren’t right, and tell yourself it’s okay. Don’t bury it and don’t fight it. That advice made sense to me. Fighting and burying take a lot of mental and emotional resources depressed people don’t have. So I told myself that this state of being was okay; I just kept taking tiny little steps in the proper direction.
Eventually, I started to feel more steady. I felt more capable. The anti-depressant did work. It took me off the ledge and put me somewhere safer; it also left me feeling dull and numb. My anti depressant had fully kicked in when the planes struck the twin towers on 9-11. I couldn’t shed a tear. My body wouldn’t make them. I didn’t like feeling so dull, but I knew that dullness was better than the alternative.
Even though I felt a kind of numb, I also still felt unsteady and scared. I still had to be careful about what I read and saw for the next year. For me, postpartum depression came in the form of intense anxiety. It felt like my nerves were raw and exposed. I couldn’t watch or read about other people’s pain or tragedy. If I saw anything that had to do with children suffering, the darkness would threaten to take me back. I couldn’t watch the news, or watch anything but comedies for a very long time.
I remember during this time listening to my Dad talk about someone he spoke with at work. My Dad was a Pastor. He was retelling a pretty wild story about someone who lived on the streets who came into the church. Of course, my Dad tried to help this man, but I remember my Dad explaining how odd the behavior of this person was. I guess most people would have called this guy “crazy”. That story scared me. Didn’t my Dad know that guy was me?
That guy was broken. So was I. And, what did it take to break me? Taking care of three small children? I couldn’t believe I was so easily cracked. I wondered why I would ever have been so cavalier about my sanity? I didn’t realize that I was never more than a few bad circumstances away from mental instability. I wouldn’t have believed it.
I was an excellent patient. I followed all the rules. I talked about my depression. I sought comfort from people who cared. I tried to take more time for myself. I slept more. I told myself what was true, even if I didn’t believe it. I read God’s word. I prayed. I ate healthy food. I exercised. I did it all. None of it worked by itself. None of it worked quickly. But, all together, applied day in and day out over the course of a year, I found my way back into the light. I started to feel more like me.
I went off my anti-depressant after a year. I didn’t relapse, but I wasn’t totally well either. I started having more and more moments where I felt like the real me. Not the muted, anti depressant me.
It wasn’t until Olivia was four years old when I remember the last storm clouds permanently disappearing. The clouds blew away when I started to work again part-time. My work excited and challenged me. I thank God for using that work to restore me fully.
When Scott and I were talking about this the other day I told him about those occasional storm clouds when Olivia was four. He was really surprised. He didn’t know. He didn’t know, because I didn’t tell him. I explained that those clouds were scary. I didn’t want to draw attention to them. He understood.
Those clouds don’t bother me at all any more. I won’t focus on them. I will focus on good health and happiness. I have an abundance of those.
Today, when I walk by the woman on the street who smells badly, is talking to herself, and carrying all her belongings with her in dirty bags, I will look at her and know. I will know that I am her. She is me. I’m just a few tough circumstances away. I will give her respect. I will help her in any way that I can.
I am sorry that I once held myself in such high regard. I thank God for using my life to teach me how to see people properly. I commit to remembering what I have learned. I wouldn’t want to repeat the lesson.