The Ugly: My Depression Story
I don't really do ugly. As a general rule I do beautiful. Well, my actual person does disheveled most days but art, interior design, writing... aiming for beautiful.
This blog post is not about beautiful. It is what it is.
I have written and painted once or twice about my bout with postpartum depression but always in a glossed over way. I laid it out and dressed it up with "sun kissed ice crystals, and babies with eyes like portals" (Dang I still love that last line). What I never thought to do or what some part of me resisted doing was sharing my story; Not in the peripheral... no beating, no bush.
The reasons women don't talk about postpartum depression as directly as we might are varied but have mostly to do with Large wild cats, but I'll explain later. Ask the lady next to you in the checkout line about her birth story and you may get details that bring you to abandon your raw hamburger and hot sauce cart in search of the nearest exist. Think about it. We will tell you in no uncertain terms how much our cervix was dilated and effaced, when we lost our plug and how many stitches are currently holding together our Southern Americas. Why? Because it's a club we are happy to have joined. We get each other, and that, along with a cute baby makes it worth it.
Now, why we don't talk about depression in the same gruesome and startlingly personal detail? For one, we are not "supposed" to.
Gratefully this is changing.... But culture is a big old cruise ship in choppy waters. It takes time.
Personally, I encountered a generation who largely and very lovingly advised me to "keep such things private".
Not related to P.P.D. but it helps makes my point... I recently heard one such man tell a younger man that, "at church we say we are going through hard times and leave it at that." Oh I had words for that old dude. Respectful, but very direct words.
I also was helping a young mom struggling with new twins and heard an older women tell her not to tell people she has PPD because she might lose her kids.
Luckily, when I was going through it myself, I got some very good advice. The best advice I got was received in a blessing from my Father in Law. He told me to be an open book. To talk would help me heal and bless others going through the same thing. So I talked. And I still talk.
And so, here's my own story because I know there is someone worn to their last thread; nursing their baby, or their coffee, who will read this and realize it was written for them.
First of all, I need to say that I have always fallen into the category of "happy." I didn't lead a unicorn life but I figure it was as close as most people get. I had friends who had what I had, warm homes, warm families... but they walked around in a dark cloud and I could not understand. Why not leave the cloud behind? Step aside and enjoy the sun!? I could see their world but I couldn't see them.
At 22 years old I did reasonably well with my first birth. Despite being the oldest of 5 and babysitting my way through middle school I was surprised at how hard it was to be a new mother. I was well versed in physically keeping a small human alive but I wasn't expecting part of myself to fall away with exhaustion.
I love being a mother. I believe that because we suffer in so many ways for our children we can do nothing but love them. The heart that beats in my son's chest is mine also. When it first sprang to life it was within us both.
He was fast. So fast. Everything he did passed so quickly- a furiously frenzied flight of days spent moving, and touching and bouncing and running. I was undone but he was beautiful.
My second pregnancy began a year after my first one ended. I remember laying in a corner of a room trying to trap my son into a place that he could play. He had already been running for 3 months and it was all I could do to safely contain him while I rested. I figured if I fell asleep he would have to breach my body-wall to escape and I would wake up.
Baby Boy #2 came in winter but shone like the sun. A month passed quickly. I remember very little except that he was such a happy baby. And so loved by his big brother.
Slowly his little cheeks started melting into angry, red sores. He melted in pain with them. We took him to doctors who layered on prescription creams and false expectations. I asked them over and over - is it my milk?
It seems obvious now, but I was repeatedly told by doctors that it couldn't be food allergies.
I didn't believe them.
So I started striping my diet down. First one thing, then another. I flung from one side of the food pyramid to the other looking for the thing that was making my baby bleed and storm. I believed I could do better than the free of everything formula that would have required a second mortgage to afford.
In the wake of his pain my own was pushed aside. I withered. I was a woman who would out eat grown men at every sitting and still the weight would slip right from my bones. I would eat a full meal right before going out to eat with friends so that I could make do with one normal sized meal in company. I was cannibalizing my body in search of a way to fix his.
As you may expect it wasn't long before my mind followed suit.
I remember being surprised. In my memory it was like a porch light being switched off. It was light, and then it wasn't. I was myself, and then I wasn't. I woke up in a new body in a shifted world. I went to bed as someone who was worthy of affection and even admiration and woke up, not.
I remember it was relentless, that beast. It may have started as something small, something I could soothe and coax. But that day of awakening was also a split.
I became two. The beast, the thing that slunk around corners and fed on scraps, and the narrator. The narrator was me when I couldn't be. The one who held my story's reins and would let things get bad but not too bad. The narrator was the one who whispered instructions and the beast would hear and respond. The narrator reminded me to smile and how to hold myself in public. Reminded me not to throw my children through windows.
That was the thought that did it.
I was changing my toddler's diaper and as many toddlers do, he was making it very difficult. I had an image cross my mind of me throwing him though the bedroom window. It was a detached and effortless thought, void of repercussions. The beast felt nothing.
The narrator, however, gave notice. I distinctly remember hearing in my mind that if I didn't get help the voice of reason I still had was leaving me- checking out and hitting a beach somewhere with no windows through which to throw restless babies.
So I talked to my son's doctor. Let slip enough to leave with a rattle of pills in my purse.
I didn't take them.
They sat in the bathroom like a monument to my failure. My failure to buck up, to exercise more. To "choose happy".
The order of events are fluid. Things that happened swim around in my memory in one house or another, or both.
I remember the panic attacks. I remember the suffocation, wondering at how a person can actually forget how to breath. I remember drowning without water over and over again. I remember a husband who wanted to bring his wife to shore but couldn't find her hand and the weight of her threatened to pull him under.
I remember at one point watching myself from the ceiling looking down. I saw the beast. Under a table and helpless and dangerous. I saw the little boy who would come to comfort his mother, and it would work. The beast would slow and quiet. And I saw the husband who would never be the same. I watched the scene wondering what was wrong with my body. Apparently the fact that I was watching myself from outside of myself wasn't enough for me to ask what was wrong with my mind.
At some point I gave in to the pills. Those little saviors that just sat quietly in my bathroom waiting for my life to unravel enough that I would follow the threads down the hall and into the medicine cabinet. At that point I thought I was either taking them all, or I was taking one. Not taking them wasn't an option anymore.
I took one. And then next day I took another.
Knowing that there was one small thing I could do everyday to try and help myself was powerful. Weeks later I came up for air. I was reborn into the world I had known. I was different, but my skin was my own again. My eyes though, they were changed. Not sad, not broken. But tuned differently. I see people who look like me and I recognize them. It is another club that motherhood bore me into.
In all it was roughly a year we spent; the narrator, the beast, and I. We had walked through every season and I can count on one hand my memories of that time.
I don't think about it much. If I have scars they aren't ones that I see in the mirror. I am not diminished by my own story. It is just that. My story. One of my many.
We don't talk about Depression often because our brains are built for survival. We are disinclined to show weakness for fear the Lions will single us out in a herd of less damaged prey. It is only when we are somewhat evolved that we can realize that it is in our weakness that we are made strong. That being real doesn't alienate us, but rather endears us. Someone will carry this story in their pocket. If I can walk alongside that person and be their narrator then what went though makes sense.
If not, it is still mine. Still mine to bear me up when things are hard. I can remember the darkest times pass and take in air. They rise and bob gently in my memory- the fire lost. That burning cold now just pages in my book.
And I am more because, for a time, I was less.