When my husband and I found out I was pregnant with our first child, I planned, read, and prepared not only for the baby, but for postpartum depression. I knew my genetics made postpartum depression likely, so I expected it. However, it took me by complete surprise by tricking me into thinking everything was okay.
I felt ecstatic after delivering my child. The delivery had gone without complications, and I felt an astonishing bond with my husband and our new baby boy. As far as everyone else knew, this is how my life continued for the next year.
However, the truth is much different; not even my husband knows the depth of the pain and loneliness I experienced. My euphoria didn’t last long. It started darkening in the hospital with the exhaustion of learning how to nurse. Some people describe depression as a cloud of fog that surrounds the brain. Mine was more like a thick, debilitating smoke. I felt like I couldn’t breathe; when I did, I inhaled filthy, self-destructive air. I began to suffer a slow, silent suffocation, and there were moments I was sure my torment would end in death. It was just as real as any other life-threatening complications that accompany pregnancy, labor, and giving birth.
My husband would hide the car keys before bed, afraid I would take them in the night during one of my manias. I would rock back and forth, repeating destructive thoughts that were obliterating my mind. I felt my little family deserved better than what I could offer and would be happier without me. I wouldn’t even let my husband touch me. I was so angry, and didn’t want him to feel obligated to be around me. My light had gone out. My extended family lived in a different state, and I had no friends. I truly felt alone.
I had fits of rage that engulfed me. I threw things at the wall and ripped my favorite books apart. I didn’t feel like I deserved any joy. I flinched at the sound of my phone ringing and avoided visitors as much as possible. I would scream at my husband when he asked me how he could help. After he suggested giving our son a bottle one night, I locked myself in the bathroom and cried uncontrollably as I clawed at the floor. I was beginning to resent my sweet baby boy. I was in more pain than I had ever experienced, and I didn’t want to exist any longer.
I would lie awake at night, thinking God was punishing me for being such a horrible mother. If I happened to fall asleep, my eyes would shoot open with any small noise, thinking someone was hiding in the closet. If I couldn’t hear my baby breathing, I would leap out of bed and run to his crib. I would sit, frozen with terror, at seeing the morning sunshine come through our windows. That light meant my husband would go to work, and I would be left alone again, feeling abandoned.
Postpartum depression robbed me of my hope, desires, creativity, self-worth, and any will to survive. Instead, it replaced these things with self-loathing, hatred for things I once loved, thoughts of destruction, and an unending darkness. Even though I still felt an all-consuming love for my son, it was weighed down with worry.
I had no ability to crawl out of this dark hole. My husband literally kept me alive. He fed me and made sure I showered every few days. He made me drink and go outside for fresh air. I don’t remember many specifics from these months, but I remember feeling like a vegetable. With every panic attack, my heart would feel like it was about to explode.
I am still recovering from and fighting through illnesses that were triggered by hormones and chemicals in my brain after my first son’s birth. I have been diagnosed with Bipolar II (Manic Depression), Clinical Depression, Generalized Anxiety, and Social Anxiety. I am battling these illnesses every day. I am in therapy, exploring my options for medication, and finding other creative ways to seek joy. As I wrestle with these afflictions, I am becoming stronger. Every day, I am fighting a hidden battle for my life and for my family.
Bad attitudes are a choice. Depression is not. One day, mental and emotional illnesses will not be seen as negative personality traits, and we will be able to talk about our hidden battles without being afraid of judgment. One day, victims to these disorders of the mind will be seen as warriors, just as someone who battles a physical cancer. We are warriors who suffer silently, and we are masters of counterfeit conversations and fake smiles that hide behind social media profiles. As we take more time to be true friends to those around us, lives will be saved and the world will change.