By Stephanie Cannoe
Looking back, I now see the debilitating depression I endured during my second pregnancy and after my son was born. For five months, I was terribly ill, throwing up four or five times a day. I'd get to work and run to make it to the bathroom in time. No matter what I did, it wasn't helping. I always felt safe when I was in control, but I had lost control and the overwhelming helplessness triggered my depression. I didn't think anyone could help, so I retreated into myself. Once the nausea passed, I continued to feel depressed, but instead of addressing it, I focused on preparing to have a natural childbirth. I immersed myself in this goal, which distracted me from what was really happening.
The intensity of having a natural childbirth catapulted me into a deep-seated connection to my body and because of this, I connected to memories I had been holding onto, including the sexual abuse I suffered as a child. On top of that, one of my closest and dearest friends had recently committed suicide, my husband was emotionally absent, and my mother-in-law, who was usually present to help, was admitted to the hospital. I also began to grieve again for my mother, who had died years earlier. I felt completely abandoned and isolated. I sensed the walls collapsing in on all sides, and I felt like there was no way out. Yet somehow I convinced myself that "I had it under control" and this stopped me from reaching out for help. Meanwhile, the stress was becoming insurmountable.
Six weeks after Calvin was born, I was outside with my then 2½-year-old son, Forest, when I noticed everything around me appeared very bleak and gray. I had an odd sense of disconnection, as if I had temporarily lost touch with reality. It was truly terrifying--I literally thought I was on the brink of losing my mind. Panicked, I called my doctor who suggested I go on an antidepressant medication. I knew that taking an antidepressant medication alone wasn't going to be enough. I didn't know what to do, but I knew I had to do something. I was unraveling. I didn't want my family to see me like this, so I checked myself into an inpatient treatment facility.
When I came home from the hospital, I felt numb, and my anxieties had skyrocketed. I didn't feel safe alone. Every time I went downstairs while holding Calvin, I'd have an anxiety attack. Each step was excruciatingly painful. I was so worried that I was going to fall down, and kill him in the process. At times the anxiety was so intense that I believed I was incapable of taking care of my son. I felt like a failure as a mother and the shame became debilitating. I had always been able to do anything I set my mind to, but this was completely different. I didn't know how to cope, and the inner turmoil turned up the noise in my head so loudly that I couldn't think. Daily tasks of living became nearly impossible and required monumental feats of courage and focus. From the moment I woke up in the morning to the time I went to bed at night, I was in emotional pain. It was a living nightmare and the absolute hardest time of my life.
But I have always believed in myself, which is one of my greatest strengths, and even when my world was falling apart, somehow I knew I would be OK. The process of healing has been multi-layered, like peeling away the layers of an onion.
When I was in the hospital, my brother Pat drove eight hours to show me his support. My dad and Uncle Skip also drove hours just to see me. Their actions showed me what I meant to them. Their love brought me one step closer to where I needed to be.
Kim, my therapist, created a sacred space that made room for everything I was experiencing. I felt comfortable sharing all my hidden pain, and she met me exactly where I was at, with understanding. The emotions were so intense that I felt overcome by them. Kim helped me to navigate an inner compass I didn't realize I had. She pointed out the signs, which showed me when to go deeper, when to pull back, when to let go, and how to counter balance. Self-care is directly linked to inner sensitivity and I learned to listen to myself.
My closest girlfriends Nettie, Maureen, Ali, and Mary consistently, sometimes daily, offered unconditional loving support. They empowered me by holding the vision of who I am. This kept me sane when I sometimes faltered.
The belief at MotherWoman is that speaking your truth is revolutionary. Speaking my truth has helped me to heal. Having the courage to show up to my truth, to let myself be seen, and to live my life from this place of truth is what has been transforming.
As I went deeper into myself, I drudged up more raw material until I was able to heal and move on. My mind was no longer a single entity working unto itself. It became part of a greater whole working synergistically with body and spirit. With access to all of my inner resources, I found balance. I retrieved parts of myself that I had disowned a long time ago, like my ability to surrender, to trust myself, and to be vulnerable.
Like most people with depression, I battled feelings of worthlessness. Naturally I still have these feelings, but now I can feel them, and then let them go. During my depression I could not do this. The negative patterns that were holding me back were complex. Through awareness, insight, self-compassion, loving support, and time, I started to see clearly again and I learned how to cope.
I knew I had turned a corner when one day out of the blue Forest, then 4 years old, said, "Mommy, remember when you were sad all the time? Well now you're not anymore." In that statement he gave me the greatest gift anyone could have given. He validated all my hard work and progress, and helped me to recognize the truth, that the worst was over.
Today, I am in the process of coming off my medication and am back to work full-time. I will soon be a newly divorced, single mom. Three years ago, I never would have thought I would be able to do this. But here I am, and I am not just surviving--I'm thriving. The best part is that I like who I am, including the full catastrophe. I respect myself immensely for having had the courage to heal, especially since I know what it took to get here. I am not sure what the future holds, but I know I will be able to embrace it. And I'm giving my boys the greatest gift I can, a healthy and whole mother. I've come full circle, but certainly haven't ended up in the same place I started.
Stephanie Cannoe is the New York State Co-Coordinator for Postpartum Support International, where she helps bring resources and support to women who are experiencing a postpartum mood disorder. She works in Managed Care as a Quality Management Specialist, and has a Master's Degree in Community Psychology and Counseling. Stephanie is an avid hiker, loves nature, and God is at the center of her life. She practices Reiki, Massage, and Meditation, and she has a personal interest in alternative therapies and holistic health. Stephanie lives in Clifton Park, NY, with her two young sons Forest and Calvin.
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