My struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety
I sit, peering at my nails with scrutiny. There’s something so gratifying about peeling nail polish off. The blank Word document sits open at my computer. I avoid looking at the screen. I realize I’m just stalling. I check the clock. 9:06 pm. I should really go to bed. Just another stalling tactic. What if they think I’m complaining? It doesn’t matter what they think. What if they judge me? Who is “they” anyway? Your potential readers. What if they don’t care about what you’re writing? Well that’s true, they might not.
I peel off a few more shells of nail polish, little by little removing the last evidence of my only “me” time I’ve had in months. I just can’t justify a manicure anymore when I left my job to be stay at home mom. Every dollar counts these days.
That’s not what I’m really trying to write about though. I’m trying to write about a topic that I can barely face as my own reality that I’ve been living the past year.
I wouldn’t say that I was truly clinically “depressed” after I had my son. I was never diagnosed with postpartum depression, although those silly surveys you take at the pediatrician’s office probably wouldn’t have caught it if that’s what I was. I wouldn’t have let them catch me either. Who would actually circle answers that had scary words in them like crying, hopeless, harming my baby? I wouldn’t be that mom. Not that mom who couldn’t handle motherhood. I trudged on for months, sleepless night after sleepless night.
So maybe I was. Depression is a nearly impenetrable cloud, and in those days of darkness, I was left in its shadow. It was like the sunlight was trying to cut its way past the murky water to the sea floor; I was always left with dim light, trying to find my way through each day. Each monotonous day with a baby. Over. And Over. Again.
It didn’t feel like I expected. I couldn’t seem to pull myself to the surface for fresh air. I felt like I stagnated at about 50-60% of myself. I never could grasp the last missing pieces to feel like myself again. I was anxious. I had bouts of anxiety for no reason, and when I did have a reason, the anxiety was like a vice around my chest, restricting my oxygen.
I’m not depressed. Not me. I’m doing okay. And the truth was, and is, that I am doing okay. It’s hard to believe that though when I was running on no sleep, no caffeine, and no pharmaceuticals, all because of breastfeeding. All because I love my baby more than anything in the world, and I’d do anything to make sure that he is okay. I fell into the trap of “breast is best,” and I wouldn’t hear of doing anything otherwise, to the possible detriment of my sleep cycles and mental state. Okay, to the definite detriment of my state. I wouldn’t even let my mom feed the baby a bottle so I could sleep more than 2-3 hours in a row.
I never had any serious thoughts of harming my baby. Or myself. I didn’t cry day after day. I didn’t feel like my days were insurmountable. I always could make it through. This, I believe, is the trap that many new moms fall into. We don’t fit the “mold” of postpartum depression, and no one talks about postpartum anxiety, so we think that this is normal, or worse, that we are the problem, or that this too will pass.
Things are getting better for me now. I haven’t gotten help yet, but I plan to go in soon for a mental tune up (I really need to make that appointment). Maybe it’s the full nights of sleep (except when the anxiety keeps me awake), or maybe it’s the hormones settling back down, but I’m feeling a lot better. I do wish that I had gotten help earlier. I wish that I hadn’t been my own martyr, with an “ever forward” mantra, pushing myself past the healthy limits of physical and mental exhaustion. Getting help, whether it be professional or friendship, doesn’t mean I’m not a good mom. It doesn’t mean I can’t do it. It means I’m smart enough to know that the phrase “It takes a village” is entirely too accurate.
I wish I knew this at the time. I suffered in silence for many months. Now that I’m coming out of that dark tunnel, I’m hoping that I can tell you, new mom, that you aren’t alone. There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way. I blame it entirely on the sleep deprivation and wacky hormones. So don’t worry, you’re doing great. But I also want to encourage you to get help if you need it. Don’t wage your internal war alone. You can be so much happier so much faster when you reach out.
You’ve got this, mama.