I remember riding in the back seat trying to hide the fact that I wasn't wearing a seatbelt. I made my husband drive because I was too distracted by my daydreams. I fantasized about getting in an accident. My husband and baby wouldn't get so much as whiplash, but I would somehow fly out of the windshield. For the first time in my life, I had a death wish.
About six weeks after I have birth, I started a rapid decline into a state of complete misery. I would stare at the blank wall, sometimes for an hour straight, listening to the negative thoughts circulating in my mind. The only thing I was capable of doing was putting on an act for my family, investing all of my energy into taking care of my baby and convincing both her and my husband that I was fine. I would challenge myself to think of anything that would make me excited about the future -- holidays, camping trips, seeing my daughter graduate Summa Cum Laude... Nothing worked. I would sit all day in a dark room, feeling a mixture of deep sadness, anxiety, worthlessness, hopelessness, and shame. I had a lot of trouble sleeping, even when she slept. I didn't eat, except when I someone expressed concern. I knew I loved my baby, but didn't feel a bond with her.
The most disturbing symptom I experienced was what are called "intrusive thoughts." This phenomenon is a symptom of postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. The worst and most persistent intrusive thought I had happened each time I would walk out onto the balcony. I would picture my daughter falling off the ledge. My brain was forcing me to experience the image and sound of her body hitting the concrete below. Now, I need to make a very important distinction between intrusive thoughts and delusions experienced by the woman in the news who drowned her children in the bathtub. What that woman suffered from is a rare and serious illness called postpartum psychosis. I was never out of control. Not once did I contemplate hurting my daughter; the thoughts made me feel physically ill. Intrusive thoughts are a very difficult and surprisingly common symptom. I have spoken with many moms who endured them as well.
I knew what postpartum depression was, but I had no idea how bad it could be. As with most mental illnesses, there is spectrum of severity and how long it can last. I can't imagine how much worse I would've felt had I not known what was going on with my body and brain chemistry. Even at my lowest, I was able to remind myself that it would not last, and that my body was hard at work attempting to get everything back into balance. Many of you are probably wondering why I didn't go straight to my doctor. It is always best to see the doctor as soon as you notice PPD symptoms. I would never advise anyone to try and ride it out like I did. All I can say is that I didn't want to because I firmly believed in my ability to pull myself out of it. No one was in danger, and my baby was well taken care of. If I had reached the point that I was actively thinking of harming myself or anyone else, or was unable to properly care for my daughter, I wouldn't have hesitated to seek medical care.
After eight weeks of isolation, I realized I needed help. I found every PPD support group in my area. One by one, I attended them until I found one where I felt I could begin my healing. Sitting with these women week after week, hearing my thoughts come out of their mouths and slowly opening up about my experiences, I felt the pain begin to subside. Talk therapy was my savior.
My experience with postpartum depression has been a blessing in disguise. As soon as my recovery began, I felt drawn to work with women and men suffering from PPD and other early parenthood issues, and to help spread awareness. If PPD is discussed more openly and often, people will be more likely to know when it's happening; they also won't be so afraid to reach out for fear of being judged. There are resources available, but they are mainly limited to support groups and doctor visits. When I was in the thick of my depression, the thought of getting my baby and myself ready, and going to the hospital to sit with a group of strangers in a support group only intensified my anxiety. What I wanted was for someone who had once been where I was to come to my house and talk with me. I wanted to see living proof that I could be happy again.
My passion now lies in bringing the support to the individual(s) so that she, he, or they can at least begin the healing within the comfort, safety, and convenience of their own home. The visits in no way replace needed medical or professional help, but simply encourage that first step toward enjoyable parenthood. Had an affordable resource like this been available to me, I would not have suffered for as long as I did.
To those of you who feel as though you are lost at sea, my heart goes out to you. Talk to your doctor. Reach out to your partner or a friend. Search for a local support group. This is not something to be ashamed of and it is not something you have to go through alone. There are countless numbers of us who made it through, and you will too.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.