I wanted to write this post for a while now. I started it several times, and walked away. Now that it’s over it’s difficult to look at how bad it actually was, but I think there’s a part of me that will always see my life as before and after this.
Our world of visuals and social media pours out an onslaught of information and pictures, and yet there’s still this misconception that depression looks sad, that mental illness is easily recognized, that the person sitting next to you is exactly what you think.
But sometimes depression looks like this:
I had this picture in my mind of PPD and it never included me. I pictured it as somehow being directed toward my baby, but for me it wasn’t that way.
Depression looks different on different people.
Sometimes postpartum depression is sitting in a room full of people and feeling totally alone. It’s smiling, and chatting, and saying all the right things, while your mind is screaming out, “Can’t you see this? Can’t you see what’s wrong with me?” Sometimes it’s gasping for air and crying so hard your body aches. Sometimes it’s being afraid to be alone, but then desperately wishing all these people weren’t around. Sometimes it’s like watching yourself from outside yourself and feeling like a shadow.
Postpartum depression doesn’t carry a name tag.
Sometimes it looks like this:
It’s clinging to that loving hand that wants so much to help and fix it, but he can’t. And knowing that he wants to and can’t makes you feel even worse, and even more depressed. Or on another day, not wanting him anywhere near and resenting that he can’t understand what’s going on. And then more guilt that there was resentment when he’s trying his best and is so confused. It’s feeling panic one moment, and not caring about anything at all the next. It’s feeling totally suffocated by basic tasks like washing a dish or making a phone call – and then feeling overwhelmed by all the things that didn’t get done.
It’s lonely. Depression is so desperately, horribly lonely.
I went through all the motions, I followed all the rules, I thought if I could just get through the day, tomorrow would be better. I smiled. And I smiled. And I smiled. I kissed my husband goodbye every day, and parented alone for hours and days and nights. I held my babies, and read them stories, made them snacks, took them to parties. Kind, good, wonderful people everywhere. Surrounded by people and I felt invisible.
I quickly realized that some people were easier than others to be around. Some people would leave my heart feeling rested, and I found myself trying to be near them, and avoid others. There were women who lifted me up without knowing I had fallen. There was love there, there was good… I can see it now so clearly, but I couldn’t then.
People told me I was such a good mother, such a good wife, such a happy person. And I wanted just one person to ASK. “Are you okay?” I wanted just one person to notice what I couldn’t find the words to say. (A lot of them actually did notice, and when I started to open up, they ended up telling me so.)
I couldn’t understand. The depression I’d experienced during pregnancy had passed. Cassandra was born and that cloud had lifted. I was myself again. The weeks passed and everything felt normal – as normal as life ever is with 4 kids! And then when she was about 3 months, it came crashing back in with a fury, and I couldn’t stop the waves.
Tomorrow will better, tomorrow will be better, tomorrow will be better.
Days worth of todays and tomorrows, stuck in a box of horror, and I couldn’t find the door.
And then tomorrow came, and I found myself standing in front of the mirror, tears streaming down my face, a weight on my chest that I couldn’t remove – and in that moment, I understood.
I stood there in the quiet house, my husband at work, my babies sleeping peacefully. And I thought, for the first time in my life, that it might be better for my sweet loves if I wasn’t here at all. It seemed, in that moment, so unfair to all of them, who mean the world to me, that they should have someone like me in their lives. It seemed like such a reasonable option to remove myself from their lives and at the same time escape from this horrible, torturous prison in my own mind.
It’s hard to even write those words. It’s terrifying to realize how the mind can turn on itself and betray the body it leads.
I texted my friend. She saved me that night. I told her everything, and she understood. She’d had it, too. She knew. She could finish my sentences as I was describing what was happening.
I texted another friend. Her practical suggestions and information made things feel manageable, and the path to healing began.
Sometimes postpartum depression looks like this:
I went to the doctor. I got the help I needed. I opened up to trusted friends and family. The baby is almost 7 months now, and the depression has gone. I can hope it has gone for good.
Depression, anxiety, mental illness – they don’t come with casts and bandages, they don’t ring a bell and give their name. They smile and laugh and talk about the weather.
I’m often told that I’m “so happy.” And I am. I believe, I will always believe in the good. But there were days, so many days in this past year that brought me to my knees. Days that I had to quite literally CHOOSE joy and choose love, when everything inside my mind and body was telling me to give up.
Postpartum depression has a face. It’s your neighbor, your friend, your sister, your daughter, your wife.
It’s the woman standing next to you.
(PS. If any of this sounds too familiar, or you’re struggling, PLEASE reach out. You are not alone, you are not invisible. You are loved and you are needed. Call a friend, call your doctor, don’t wait. Xoxo)