Saturday, August 1, 2009

courage, acknowledgement, permission and support

I knew as soon as I felt I had triumphed postpartum depression (PPD), that I wanted to share my story with other women in crisis with the illness. Here I am two yrs. later and I am in full swing of offering my physical presence as support, but my "story" remains, largely, unwritten. I WANT to write it all out. I want to give women, not the glossed over version, but details of the darkness and the shafts of light that finally shattered through it. I don't care if it's poetic, I don't care if it's not something that any publisher would approve and distribute in massive quantities...I simply want it to be authentic enough to offer hope to someone else who is lost.

It's more than lack of courage that stops me though. It's the pain of re-living that time of my life, and it's the possibility that it won't make a difference, and what a waste it all will be, and I'm not a writer anyway, I'm just a...well, whatever I am, I'm not all that.

I think in the wee part of my story that I have written, I have been unable to step back from the experience so that other women and their families can step in instead. It's for their healing that I write...or at least that's what I tell myself.

Today, I read this..."the courage to tell it like it is" by Jen Lee, and I see an opportunity to just write it for me. That right now, it's not for them. Just tell it like it happened, in a saner state of mind, experience it all over again, and say adios to the pain, but not the memories.

Really...can it be that simple and still that scary?

Jen asks, "Are we solidifying idealistic expectations for the next generation that bear little resemblance to the reality they will find?" PPD may be a scary part of motherhood, but it exists for some nonetheless. And I wish that I had known the truth, the real truth before I slipped into it, so I knew better the signs to look out for. And therein lies my motivation...but still not the source of my courage.

I can see now that I have to go back into it. I'm going to need more than just tapping into my inate tenacity, I need to fortify myself in the present, so that I don't slip backwards. And maybe, just write it here and there for awhile. To fully immerse myself into that past would be harmful right now, but to offer bits feels like it could be okay.

Thank you Jen for saying that telling it like it is is not always easy... it's given me the opportunity to needs to be done anyway.

* * *

From my blog "there is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets through". It's temporarily closed while I write bits and pieces here...

"I don't want to be a mom anymore!" I sobbed into his consoling, non-judgemental embrace four days after our daughter was born.

What I wanted was a team of experts to stampede into my room and whisk her, and all her encroaching necessities, out of my house and life so that I could sleep for a month and then resume my life pre-pregnancy style. What happened instead was the beginning of an unimaginable two year struggle to climb out of an abyss of self-loathing and unbearable hopelessness.

Of course I was familiar with the term "post-partum depression", all the pregnancy books wrote about it and it was something my mid-wife and I briefly covered during one of our visits. I knew the symptoms, what I didn't recognize was how they felt and how they could happen to me, someone who was having a text-book pregnancy. Never mind that the word I exclaimed when I found out I was pregnant only included four letters. Never mind that I couldn't bear the thought of shopping for diapers or sleepers...and definitely never mind that throughout the nine months of supposed glowing bliss, I frequently questioned my decision to have our baby. Ambivalence was putting it mildly.

At first I thought I just had the baby blues ~ extreme fatigue, foggy brain, easy to cry etc. I should have been tipped off by the unusual symptoms such as - not liking "that baby smell" and dreading spending the day caring for my daughter. I didn't know how to gauge what was normal and what wasn't because I didn't have any other mom friends I felt I could confide in. Even while under the guidance of my mid-wife six weeks post-partum, neither one of us had a clue.

I don't know how I faked it for two months. I suppose I thought that dread and anxiety were normal emotions associated with motherhood. At least daily I looked out our front window, watching people drive by, and thinking how so very lucky they were to not be stuck in the house with an infant, how fortunate they were to be free.

One particular day while out walking with a couple of fellow moms, one of them exclaimed with pride that, despite the fatigue and uncertainty of this new role, we loved our jobs! I thought about how effortless it sounded, how she smiled with assurance and that I would have choked on those words if I had to say them. I didn't love my job! Yes, there were moments that I was able to appreciate my role, but I was basically going through the motions of feeding, holding and playing with her. I could say with the same assurance that I hated my job! I'm not sure which was more crippling - my shame at admitting this, or keeping it a secret from everyone else.

After putting my daughter down for a nap one day (I vividly remember it was a Friday), I lay down myself, sighing with relief that I was not going to have to fake it at least for anther hour, when not 10 minutes later I woke with a start. Every nerve in my body was frozen with tension and my mind wouldn't stop racing with thoughts that I didn't want this role anymore...I didn't love my job! I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other, just far enough to walk into Tom's home office and ask what a nervous breakdown felt like, because surely I was having one. I was terrified, I didn't know what was happening to my body and I felt as if I'd lost control of my mind. I knew that I couldn't keep it all inside me anymore, someone had to know, someone had to do something about it and someone had to take it (whatever it was) away, now!

Twenty-four hours later I was officially diagnosed with PPD and harboring a bottle of anti-depressants in my purse. I finally knew I was sick...I knew that I was desperate enough to take the medication and I even reconciled, although barely, that I would have to give up breastfeeding my daughter for my own betterment. But what happens next? Take the drugs and hope for the best? Stay hidden under my bedclothes until my daughter turns eighteen and moves out?? Was I going to spend the rest of my life denying that I was her mother?? What about my vision of being the perfect "earth mother"? How was I going to live up to society's expectations, let alone my own.

I would answer these excruciating questions over many months of counseling and under the supervision of expert hospital staff. I would learn that my own shame of feeling everything that was completely opposite to a loving mother was minimal compared to society's stamp of shame on this and all other mental illnesses. I would finally know my own "rock bottom"...and I would learn to climb out of it with the help of everyone else's faith but my own.

* * *

I went back just now and re-read the comments left by those acknowledging my courage to write this. And so I'm changing the title to this post to add "support", because their words lifted me, just as I want to lift others.


Anonymous said...

First of all, you write beautifully and by all means, this was a very well written peek into the horrors you must have went through.
If you are brave, (and I mean REALLY brave), I really think you should write a book about it. Your raw, authentic voice of experience is what mothers need to read...not all the medical hype.

I had no idea. You are so beautiful and down to earth and strong and "together"....yay for you for surviving such a debilitating time in your life.

Oh ROCK!!!
Thank you for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

I see the rock!!!

Jen Lee said...

You are doing it! I see you!

mb said...

thank you so much. i have just recently walked back from the Underworld of PPD into the Light of Life again. It took about 20 months. It was so fucking hard. Violently hard. Rage. And I am so thankful to read this, i told bits and pieces of my story on my blog, but always too scared to write the real stuff....the REAL REAL REAL stuff. the stuff where screams and body throws and hyperventilating is made of. I had two kids before with no PPD at all and so i was totally SHOCKED when after my third it hit my like a brick building. I wish i had more support, i wish i knew what i was going through.

thank you

Sulwyn said...

Thank you for writing this. My own depression had very little to do with pregnancy (as far as anyone knows it had nothing to do with it) but the sense of shame about those feelings is the same. Thank you for being brave enough to shine your light into the darkness.