Remembering Postpartum Depression
We were digging through a drawer looking for something in our bedroom this weekend, and underneath the junk in the junk drawer, a piece of paper with my handwriting on it caught my eye. I didn’t recognize the paper at first, so I couldn’t remember how it got there or what was written on it.
I pulled it out of the drawer and then sunk down to the bed when I saw the date: 8/1/03.
I knew exactly what was on it. A long-ago forgotten letter I had written to myself when Girl Child was 11 months old. This was during the peak of my lingering bout of postpartum depression. All the feeling I poured out into this letter is totally foreign to me now. And yet, at the same time, achingly familiar.
It’s been a really long time since I kept a journal. I started on my first journal (that were written in non-third grader complete sentences) here in 1986. I was 16. I kept them for several years – through college and even a little beyond, but stopped in about 1995. I just lost the desire to write about my life. When I look back on those journals, especially the early ones, I kind of laugh. It was pretty much all about boys. I wrote down poems that I liked, and song lyrics, too. Sometimes other writers could express the feelings that I was feeling.
A LOT has changed since I last kept a journal. It’s some of these changes that are compelling me to start again. I’m married to a wonderful man, and we have a little girl. She will be one in three weeks. To say that becoming a mother has changed our lives is probably the understatement of the century. I knew that I wanted a child, but I was unprepared for the rigors of what being a parent entails. It’s changed everything. I love my daughter more than anything. She is so beautiful and sweet natured. What I’m struggling with right now is that I feel somewhat like I’ve lost a sense of myself. I’m not working right now – I’ve taken the last year off. I’m finding that my days stretch out in front of me. As much as I hate to admit this, being with her is boring for me sometimes. I crave company.
Here’s the problem: I don’t have a job to focus on, I’m not a big hobby person, and I’m finding it difficult to NOT feel sort of lost. [My husband] has hobbies that take him away from home, like waterskiing, golf, etc. I don’t. I like to exercise, and want to focus on that, but I have to find childcare, which is a big pain. Juggling her schedule can be tough, too. I look at these obstacles and talk myself out of doing things that make me more ME. The weight of the responsibility feels very heavy.”
What I couldn’t find the words for, or maybe couldn’t handle seeing written on black and white, was the conflict I could feel tearing me apart inside. I had everything I had ever wanted, really. Why did I feel so trapped and heavy? Why did I feel so sad?
Shortly after writing this, I basically hit bottom. I went for several days either crying or nearly crying. I knew I needed help, so I made an appointment with my doctor. I told her, weeping, “I have everything I’ve ever wanted. Why do I feel like this?” She handed me a tissue and told me, “Because you’re depressed, and it’s not your fault.” We talked some more, and then I agreed to start taking antidepressant medication and come back for follow-up.
Within a few weeks, the fog had begun to lift, and I started to make a plan. I realized that prior to the medication, I wasn’t even able to make a plan. I was stuck.
How did I get myself back? I exercised more, I got a part-time job that involved doing something I used to love but had lost in the preceding years (singing) and started a slow but steady climb out. Looking back, I know that it was the combination of those three things that began my rise out of the dark.
Eleven years later, sitting on the edge of my bed remembering the pain in my words, I got a sense of just how far I had come. The next years weren’t without setbacks, to be sure, but I am healed. I may have times of sadness and depression again, but the difference today is that I know what to do about it: lean on my tribe. Take action. Ask for help. Reclaim something that I enjoy. Ignore the voice in my head lying to me, telling me “I can’t.”
I can. And I did.
If you’re reading this and think you may need some help, you’re not alone. Here is a link to postpartum depression resources. Please reach out.