Reflections

Remembering the Pain of Postpartum Depression

postpartum depressionRemembering Postpartum Depression

We were digging through a drawer looking for something in our bedroom this weekend, and underneath the junk in the junk drawer, a piece of paper with my handwriting on it caught my eye. I didn’t recognize the paper at first, so I couldn’t remember how it got there or what was written on it.

I pulled it out of the drawer and then sunk down to the bed when I saw the date: 8/1/03.

I knew exactly what was on it. A long-ago forgotten letter I had written to myself when our daughter was 11 months old. This was during the peak of my lingering bout of postpartum depression. All the feeling I poured out into this letter is totally foreign to me now. And yet, at the same time, achingly familiar.

“8/1/03

It’s been a really long time since I kept a journal. I started on my first journal (that were written in non-third grader complete sentences) here in 1986. I was 16. I kept them for several years – through college and even a little beyond, but stopped in about 1995. I just lost the desire to write about my life. When I look back on those journals, especially the early ones, I kind of laugh. It was pretty much all about boys. I wrote down poems that I liked, and song lyrics, too. Sometimes other writers could express the feelings that I was feeling.

A LOT has changed since I last kept a journal. It’s some of these changes that are compelling me to start again. I’m married to a wonderful man, and we have a little girl. She will be one in three weeks. To say that becoming a mother has changed our lives is probably the understatement of the century. I knew that I wanted a child, but I was unprepared for the rigors of what being a parent entails. It’s changed everything. I love my daughter more than anything. She is so beautiful and sweet natured. What I’m struggling with right now is that I feel somewhat like I’ve lost a sense of myself. I’m not working right now – I’ve taken the last year off. I’m finding that my days stretch out in front of me. As much as I hate to admit this, being with her is boring for me sometimes. I crave company.

Here’s the problem: I don’t have a job to focus on, I’m not a big hobby person, and I’m finding it difficult to NOT feel sort of lost. [My husband] has hobbies that take him away from home, like waterskiing, golf, etc. I don’t. I like to exercise, and want to focus on that, but I have to find childcare, which is a big pain. Juggling her schedule can be tough, too. I look at these obstacles and talk myself out of doing things that make me more ME. The weight of the responsibility feels very heavy.”

What I couldn’t find the words for, or maybe couldn’t handle seeing written on black and white, was the conflict I could feel tearing me apart inside. I had everything I had ever wanted, really. Why did I feel so trapped and heavy? Why did I feel so sad?

Shortly after writing this, I basically hit bottom. I went for several days either crying or nearly crying. I had intrusive thoughts about escaping. I knew I needed help, so I made an appointment with my doctor. I told her, weeping, “I have everything I’ve ever wanted. Why do I feel like this?” She handed me a tissue and told me, “Because you’re depressed, and it’s not your fault.” We talked some more, and then I agreed to start taking antidepressant medication and come back for follow-up.

Within a few weeks, the fog had begun to lift, and I started to make a plan. I realized that prior to the medication, I wasn’t even able to make a plan. I was stuck.

How did I get myself back? Medication, more exercise, a part-time job that involved doing something I used to love but had lost in the preceding years (singing) and that’s what started the slow but steady climb out. Looking back, I know that it was the combination of those things that began my rise out of the dark.

Thirteen years later, sitting on the edge of my bed remembering the pain in my words, I got a sense of just how far I had come. The next years weren’t without setbacks, to be sure, but I am healed. I may have times of sadness and depression again, but the difference today is that I know what to do about it: lean on my tribe. Take action. Ask for help. Reclaim something that I enjoy. Ignore the voice in my head lying to me, telling me “I can’t.”

I can. And I did.

If you’re reading this and think you may need some help, you’re not alone. Here is a link to resources. Please reach out. You are NOT “crazy” and there is help. 

The Day I Knew He Wouldn’t Leave

One from my Random Thoughts blog. I still feel this way.

I *knew* when the church doors opened and the music started to play I was in the right place at the right time with the right person. The last 16 years hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been worth every minute.

The Day I Knew He Wouldn’t Leave.

My Grandma died in 1997. I had been dating Capt. for less than a year.

At that point, we were still kind of tiptoeing around each other. Neither one of us were the “fall fast fall hard” types, and I wasn’t sure if I could REALLY honestly believe that he would be there when I needed him. I’d been disappointed so often before with others bailing out or making an excuse when I was having a hard time, I had trouble even contemplating he might be different. So, I kept asking him, “Are you coming with me?” And he would say, “Yes.”

Then he got sick. Like, barely lift his head off the pillow sick. The fear I was going to have to go through this incredibly emotional experience without him was growing. All I knew was I really wanted him there. We had only recently said, “I love you,” and I was hoping against hope he was the last man I would say it to.

I struggled with myself in the days leading up to the funeral. He had been passing all my little tests thus far. Tests like, “how will he do when he meets my parents?” And, “how will he do during my family Thanksgiving?” With flying colors.

So here we were. One of my most beloved grandparents was gone. I missed her terribly, and really wanted him to be there. I knew I felt stronger with him near me.

The morning of the funeral came, and he showed up at my apartment, wearing a suit, eyes watering, stuffy nose, miserable, and there for me.

It was a turning point for me. After that I really let my guard down with him and allowed myself to fully trust his word. He was there for me. He didn’t try to run when things got hard. No excuses why he couldn’t be there. He’s been there ever since, and I’m so thankful.

Grilled Cheese And Tomato Soup

grilled cheeseTwenty-five years ago this month, I was getting ready to pack up my parent’s car with all of my belongings and start college. I was bursting with the desire to leave what I had always known and find the yet to find.

That was when all of my belongings fit in the back of a 80’s model station wagon.

They don’t anymore, in case you were wondering.

I thought I was completely ready to leave my suburban nest and handle it all on my own. I couldn’t wait to make decisions for myself, like I had always wanted. I had a voice, thoughts in my head, words on the tip of my pen, expectations high, and independence was within my grasp.

I was a fool.

My first three years of college were filled with loneliness, homesickness, bad boyfriends, confusion, dumb decisions and a dawning realization that maybe I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was. I got to 21 and was already tired. I was unsure of who I had been, who I had become, and if all the missteps along the way had damaged me permanently.

Half way through my junior year I moved into my first apartment by myself, with the help of my parents. It was a complete dump, like most first apartments are. I remember standing in my dingy little kitchen, with the plugs on the opposite side of where you actually needed them, wondering what I should do next. My parents had left. My soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend was in graduate school in Chicago and I knew that our relationship was in serious trouble. I was alone. It was completely quiet.

The only thing I could think of to do at that moment was to make myself lunch. I walked up to the corner grocery store and bought myself food for my first meal in my first big-girl apartment. Just me, no roommates, no one to navigate around except myself. I made grilled cheese and tomato soup.

It was far and away the best meal I had ever had. This was what real independence felt like. It felt like standing up in the face of an unsteady future and putting one foot in front of the other. It felt like straightening the road in front of me and choosing the direction instead of letting the direction choose me. It felt like growing up.

It tasted like grilled cheese and tomato soup.

Running For My Life, In A Green Tutu

I have been saved by exercise over and over again. Depression knocks at my door, and one of the ways I’ve learned to keep it outside is exercise. Particularly running. I get into my own head with good music and all the awful stays away, at least for a little while.

I’ve had ups and downs with it over the years, injuries, bronchitis-induced asthma, and chronic foot aches and pains.

The foot pain has been hanging on for a few years now, making running difficult sometimes.

I’m doing it anyway.

I am running, icing, stretching, cross-training and resting. Lather, rinse, repeat.

If I can do this, so can you. I will run until I can’t. And when I can’t, I’ll figure out another way to get moving. Being able to play with my kids without getting winded means that much to me. I’m running for my life. I’m running to keep the bad at bay. I’m running to refill my glass.

I’m running for them. They deserve a wife and mother who feels strong and able. That’s what running gives me. I ran in my first 5k in several years yesterday, and it felt fantastic. I can’t wait for the next one.

Most of the time I’m not actually dressed in a green tutu. I break that out for special occasions.

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I run for them.