Disclaimer: The following article mentions the topic of suicide or other sensitive subjects, which may trigger negative thoughts and feelings for those currently suffering or still recovering from a mental or mood disorder. Reader discretion is advised.
A few months after I had my third baby, I knew that something wasn’t right with me. The joy that I felt for the first couple of months had slowly faded away and I was having a difficult time finding any happiness in the day to day with my sweet children. At first I thought that it was because I was returning to work after my maternity leave and I was feeling the burden of mommy guilt. I told myself, “This sadness and lack of motivation I am feeling must be situational and not postpartum depression.” I had mild postpartum depression after my second baby that left me feeling down and exhausted. I had gotten through it with some extra help from my husband and a solo trip to an all-inclusive resort for four days. But this time was nothing like the last one.
When my baby was four months old, the thoughts would come and go about how everyone’s life would be better if I was no longer in existence. I am a logical and responsible person and my mind plotted a course as to how I could end my life without burdening anyone by having to find my body. The plan laid out before me was to fly to a coastal city, buy a gun, charter a boat, sail far out to sea, jump overboard and pull the trigger. My intense fear of sharks stopped this thought in its tracks, but I knew that something was definitely wrong with me.
I went to see a family doctor about a different health issue and while there mentioned that I was feeling down and was interested in a low dosage of medication, which was a huge deal for me as I am all about trying to heal naturally first. He asked me if I had thought about hurting myself. I said “no” because I knew that the scenario above would be the only “logical” way and the sharks would keep me from doing so. He prescribed 10 mg of Celexa, but told me the dosage was so low it may not help. I didn’t want a higher dosage, because I was still breastfeeding my baby. I started taking the medication and two days later my baby started refusing to eat and was unusually fussy. So after three pills, I stopped taking the medication.
After my second baby, I had started feeling better around five months, so I was sure I would start to improve soon. But the depression only deepened, and the thoughts and urges kept getting stronger, and darker. I became paranoid about the safety of my children. I was sure that strangers were going to hurt them. I wouldn’t leave the house alone with them, as it became too overwhelming. I would wake up from vivid, terrible nightmares and my husband would hold me and try to comfort me.
I am a capable and competent woman. I have found success in my career and generally have a great life. Others depend on me for comfort, support and help, but the simplest tasks became too much for me and I became crippled by the piles of “to do” lists at home and work. I lost the ability to motivate myself to complete anything other than the basics of life for my children. I constantly felt like a failure at everything; home, family, motherhood, work. Eating became a chore and I quickly dropped to 15 pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight. I was not healthy and no longer recognized the exhausted person looking back at me in the mirror.
My anxiety kept me from interacting with anyone at work or in social settings. If I had to speak in a meeting, I would lose my train of thought and then spend the rest of the day/night with severe anxiety about how incompetent and dumb I must have sounded to everyone. I would burst into tears to my husband and would cry out “what is wrong with me?!”
I started feeling that I was becoming a burden to my husband. He was starting to fight his own battle with health issues and depression, so I put on my happy face and started helping him, hoping that focusing on serving someone else would help me feel better.
On a cold night in December, I was doing dishes when I suddenly had the strong urge to walk out of my home without a coat, head to a mountain trail about a mile away, and lay down in the 10-degree weather until I froze to death. It would end my suffering and make it all stop. Then I came to, still standing at the sink. I was scared.
Over the next few weeks as I was driving to work I would think “I just want to die.” There are a lot of dump trucks driving the same route and another vision would play out daily that a could drive in front of a speeding dump truck and take off my seat belt just before impact. That way my kids would be told that Mom died in an accident, instead of Mom killed herself. I was getting more and more frightened by the vivid and real thoughts that were going through my head and knew that I needed help.
Finally, I went to see my OB/GYN for a checkup. I told the nurse I think I have postpartum depression and she had me do the standard written quiz. She tallied up my scores, looked at me and went to get the doctor. He came in and asked me more about how I was feeling. I told him that I felt like a zombie who was just surviving and hadn’t been happy in a long time. I only had two nights in the past nine months where I had gotten eight hours of sleep, because my sweet baby still refused to sleep through the night. He told me I needed to start medication that same day and prescribed me 50 mg of Zoloft once a day. I should start to feel better in two weeks. He also ordered me to take naps during the day, even if they were under my desk at work, and get as much sleep at night as possible. I left finally feeling like there was a little hope.
A few days later I confided in a friend that I had started taking Zoloft. She told me that she was on it as well, because after her last baby she kept feeling like wrapping her car around a tree. I didn’t tell her about how dark my urges had been, but felt a bit better knowing that I was not the only one who experienced them.
Then, a week later, the perfect scenario presented itself. The speeding dump truck was flying down the road. My instincts told me to push the gas and let it T-bone my vehicle, but my friend’s words flashed through my head “like wrapping your car around a tree.” I consciously pressed my foot hard on the brake and held it until long after the truck had passed. I caught my breath and drove home to the waiting arms of my sweet children. I held them a little tighter and longer than usual. Then I called my friend to tell her thank you for saving my life.
A week later, Emily Dyches passed away. I knew her and that she was also battling postpartum depression. The tragedy affected me deeply. I was more determined than ever to fight this battle and find my happiness again.
I stopped being ashamed of my illness and hiding it from those that love me. I started asking for help and opening up to those that are close to me. I have received far more support than I thought I would. I found out I am not alone in this struggle. Other women have gone through this before, or are going through it now, and we are finding the strength to overcome this together. I only wish that I had started talking and asking for help earlier, so that I would not have reached the depths of darkness and despair that plagued my dear little family for several months.
I am still working through my depression. The dark thoughts and urges are not completely gone, but they have been significantly muted and are lessening with time. The other day I looked out my window after a spring rain shower. As the dreary and gray weather started to pass, I saw the sunbeams making their way through the clouds and reflecting on the vibrant colors of green grass, fresh leaves, and bright flowers. I felt warmth and peace inside for the first time in a long time. I have hope again.
When my sweet littles ones tell me they can’t do something, I look at them and say, “You can do anything. Sometimes we just need a little help.” The same is true for me. I will win this battle because, with a little help, I can do anything.