What images do you conjure up when someone says they’re depressed? When I was first formally diagnosed with it, I fit the stereotype. It was the height of the barren womb years, when I easily got pregnant and then just as easily miscarried every one. I was a crying, hormonal mess. I couldn’t focus on anything but getting pregnant (and staying that way). My heart ached with every baby face I saw, with every pregnant mother brushing by me in the market.
I saw two different therapists; one was of no help, but the other helped me work through the despair. And then, by no small miracle, I was pregnant with a keeper baby. The clouds lifted. My tears were of joy, not grief. I thought the darkness was behind me. I didn’t know that it was still there, crouching in the shadows like a mugger, waiting for me to let my guard down.
I thought post-partum depression meant an inability to bond with your child, to be so stressed and overwhelmed with motherhood you couldn’t function. That wasn’t me. Yes, I was overwhelmed, but my daughter was my world. I adored her and couldn’t get enough of her, even with her acid reflux and breastfeeding issues.
It was everyone else I hated. I was extreme in my resentment and impatience with my stepchildren. My husband pissed me off on a regular basis. When the Iraq War began and he deployed surprisingly and suddenly, leaving me home with a three-month-old alone, I hated him. As I mentioned in my previous post, It’s the Journey…, my life took a drastic turn I hadn’t planned for, and the dreams of the perfect little life I thought I would have stayed just that—dreams. I filled my days with activities for baby and me, and then spent all night crying and raging.
My world was coming apart. My baby girl, the one I had prayed for and walked on fire to have, was the one light shining in the darkness. But it was artificial brightness, like the fluorescents in offices and cheaply-built bathrooms. They highlight every flaw, even the imaginary ones. Instead of being the supportive, dutiful military wife I should have been, I was—quite frankly—a shrew. My marriage went into crisis mode, and it was all my own doing. I was suffocating in a pit of hopelessness.
I should have reached out to my husband, but I pushed him away because I blamed him. Instead, I reconnected (via email) with an old friend and ex. It wasn’t anything illicit; he was just someone to talk to, a connection to my past, to a time when I wasn’t fat or unemployed or directionless or covered in baby puke or… lonely. Part of me needed to talk to someone who only remembered the happier me, before infertility and miscarriage and the strain of being a wife/mother/stepmother wore down my once-sharp edges. But it hurt my husband, and understandably so.
That’s what depression is. It really is like those commercials say, “Who does depression hurt? Everyone.” It’s not just feeling sad. Depression is radioactive. Everything it touches becomes contaminated. Resentments glow hotter, while discontent casts a permanent shadow on the immediate surface of everything around you. It’s a negative energy that hums in your head telling you that you aren’t good enough, that you have no value. It becomes part of your daily existence, and if you don’t decontaminate in time, it causes relationship cancer, eating at you and your relationships from the inside.
This is when you need someone in a HAZMAT suit to step in and help. It can be a good friend, a family member, a doctor—anyone you trust. It can also be others who’ve gone through the same hell as you, a support group either online or in-person. I am fortunate that I have such people to turn to. Who are, to paraphrase one of my favorite The West Wing characters, willing to jump in the hole with me to show me the way out.
Through a combination of medication and therapy, my whole being was in balance for a while. But after my second child was born, I bottomed out again. My doctor diagnosed “Prozac poop-out”, switched up my meds, got me back into therapy, and I was feeling better again. In the past year, I’ve weaned off my anti-depressants altogether, something that, at one point, I thought would never happen. It helps that I can now recognize when I start to feel the darkness creeping back in, and that if it gets overwhelming, I have a support network to turn to. People willing to climb into the hole with me.
Depression has many faces. If any of this sounds like something you or a loved one has felt, know this—you aren’t alone.