To many, it may feel like the awareness and understanding of postpartum depression (PPD) -- once a taboo subject -- has increased in recent years. But too much about it is still not discussed, and certainly not candidly.
Maybe I'm generalizing, but the images that are conjured up by the mention of PPD are generally of mothers recovering from childbirth, struggling to bond with their newborns and experiencing feelings of extreme sadness. Using my focus group of one, that's exactly what I thought of when someone brought up PPD. That is, until I went through it myself.
I was diagnosed with PPD almost two years ago. The difference? My diagnosis came when my son was 11 months old (and my twin boys were 4), and three weeks after I started a new, full-time job.
Do the math: I suffered for eleven months before I was diagnosed. More than 330 days. In hindsight, I wonder if my difficulty in making sense of what was happening had something to do with those false images that I had of what PPD was and what it meant.
I feel like I need to put my experience into context for those who struggle to understand its reality. At the worst points (and there were many), I thought about killing myself every single day. I planned my funeral in detail. I cut off complete contact with everyone who was close to me. I was unable to contain severe overreactions to insignificant events. I was so far in that I truly couldn't see a way out.
I made the decision to go back to work on my own in the tenth month of this cycle. In hindsight, it seems crazy -- at a time when everything was going so wrong and I was letting so many people down, why did it seem like a good idea to add another set of expectations to my plate?
Strangely, going back to work is a huge part of what pulled me through.
Somehow, I could hold it together extremely well in front of my colleagues. My achievements at the office, however small, and the feelings of adding value that came with my work, gave me a sense of confidence. Being surrounded by people who didn't know "that" side of my life freed me from the constant questions at home. Yes, there were still many times when I was in pieces, but I was finally in a place that showed me just how wrong everything before it had been, and it motivated me to ask for -- and find -- help.
Nothing I've read says that this is the right path for everyone. Choosing to start a new job while battling undiagnosed depression and managing a family of three boys under five years of age sounds wrong, even to me. But I firmly believe that work saved me, my family, my marriage and, in some ways, my life.
When I realized I needed help, I scoured the Internet looking for examples that mirrored my experience. Trawling through countless discussion boards, blog posts and very official medical sites, I couldn't find anything that spoke to my situation. "Baby blues" didn't reflect my reality. My baby wasn't even a baby anymore, he was walking. I couldn't find myself in the countless stories online of women at home in pajamas, struggling to get out of bed.
So perhaps someone will read this and see themselves. Perhaps someone will read this and see someone close to them. Or perhaps it will just help to change someone's view of postpartum depression. To understand just how difficult it is to pinpoint, to survive and to recover from.
Postpartum depression is a serious disorder that clearly doesn't happen because of circumstances. But, strangely enough, changing my circumstances helped to stop it from ravaging my family.
I feel thankful every day for that.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.