I am not a young parent. I am not parenting alone. I am not a first time mother. I am educated, mostly middle class, I have a career, a home. I am a positive person. I am in control.
And absolutely none of this matters.
I still experienced Postpartum Depression. The same that is diagnosed in over 10% if all new mothers. The same that in reality effects countless numbers more. Across all boundaries. Regardless of anything.
Its a strange community builder. 'Did you cry (yell, panic, feel hopeless...) uncontrollably today? Wow, me too! and that's a great pair of shoes!'
One of the crazy things about PPD is that, while so many of us experience it, not one of us has an identical story, and through the very nature of the beast we are often completely isolated from each other.
Even as I work on this post I am unsure of telling my story. There is is this undertone, amongst those who haven't experienced depression, that 'happy happy joy joy' all the time will just fix it. But that's, frankly, crap. How else do we know that we are not lost unless someone else tells us they have been here before, with all its unspeakable awfulness, and survived?
For me PPD was a destructive cocktail of chemistry and situation. I can write about this now only because its gone. At the time I wouldn't have had the slightest clue how to explain what I was experiencing. In an odd way it was like swimming in a wild, crowded wave pool. You go under and all you can do is thrash around in the darkness, while you are pounded again and again by waves you don't see coming, people a blur all around you, just surviving from one second to the next, with no idea whats going on, whats happening to you. And then, without warning you surface. And all you can think about is wow. That was scary. I'm so glad its over now. And then another wave comes.
When I felt better I imagined it all gone, and that I didn't need to talk to anyone about it. And I never felt myself slipping aback under, until I came back up again. And so the cycle continued.
The pieces of the 'under' times (and that was the majority for 10 months) that I remember now are not pretty, and they still make me feel raw and vulnerable. Its been hard to forgive myself for all of that. What has helped has been the understanding that PPD, like other forms of depression is an illness. Just as much as cancer, just as much as a broken leg, with symptoms beyond our control. We didn't ask for it, and we don't deserve it. But it will change.
One day I realized that I'd felt better for a week. And then it was 2. And now its a year. Now I can recognize a bad day amongst the better days.
I don't have a secret, no magic cure. What I think, maybe helped get me through is simply 'fake it till you make it'.
I know. Trite doesn't even begin to describe it. But its the best way I can think of to explain even the thinnest thread of a strategy I used to get through all this (and it has a catchy rhyme, so that's worth something, right?) I wish I had the sense, understanding, and support to just get the drugs and/or the therapy. But I didn't. 20/20 hindsight.
Despite the constant blur I knew, of course, that all was not well. And I was afraid that it was somehow damaging my son (did I mention the paranoia??), so I pretended. I made myself pick him up. I made myself sing to him, I made myself speak love to him, and I made myself take photos of us together, placing myself firmly in his life. Even though I felt hollow.
Don't get me wrong here - I am a strong advocate of telling everyone who will listen how you are really feeling, and I regret the mask I wore with my friends and family. But my children (I also had a 3 year old) didn't need to know any more than they could already sense. I believe this 'practice' mothering helped me grow into actually doing it for real.
I celebrate motherhood with passion, but I also know how it deepened my depression to think that everyone else was floating in a haze of mothering wonder, while I was feeling not a bit of it.
So to the moral of my story. Strength in numbers, baby. Share the hurt. We will help you carry it. And maybe we can make you smile once in a while, until you can do it without pretending. Because it will happen.
This is my guest post over here today. Its a new initiative spearheaded by Meg Fahrenbach. Feel free to stop by and leave a comment.