Until motherhood, I had never been depressed, but looking back at my life, that’s not really true. I had just never been formally diagnosed by a professional. I can remember plenty of days where I felt sad and didn’t want to do anything but curl up in bed. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and had somehow misplaced my joy. I remember having panic attacks when I moved into my first apartment in New York City. Apparently, all that made me a higher risk case for postpartum depression when I decided to become a parent, but I don’t remember reading that in my copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
I never thought depression, anxiety, medication, therapy, feelings of guilt, failure and the belief I made a mistake becoming a mom would shape the welcome party ushering me into motherhood. I didn’t go in thinking I’d be coming out as a medicated mommy who could barely hold her shit together in those first six months. I couldn’t fathom being the girl who walked circles around my neighborhood in the clothes I slept in, ugly crying on the phone to my own mom, telling her I was in hell, and refusing to believe that I would ever get out.
But that’s what happens when postpartum depression shows up to greet you when you bring your new baby home from the hospital. You feel more than overwhelmed and exhausted. You feel helpless and can’t see any light in the tunnel. Your own light goes out and you think you will be stuck in that darkness forever. And if you’re like me, you have no clue that you’re actually not alone in that darkness. That what is happening to you is extremely common and happens to hundreds of thousands of new moms each year.
So, in that dark tunnel I remained, feeling alone, feeling crazy, feeling ashamed that I felt nothing for the adorable baby boy in the next room, feeling suffocated by anxiety and the desire to want to sleep forever, and feeling like there was obviously something wrong with me because I sucked at motherhood while everyone else smiled for Facebook and Instagram with pictures of their new babies labeled with captions like “amazing,” “so in love,” “the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” or “life is complete.” And there I was, beating myself up with guilt and self-loathing because I couldn’t feel any of it.
I remained in the dark for almost six months. Somehow, magically at six months, someone or something turned the light on in my tunnel. Maybe it was my therapist. Maybe it was the antidepressants. Maybe it was the patience and determination I begrudgingly held on to. Whatever it was, I found myself putting my baby in his stroller and walking to the park by ourselves. That was the first time I voluntarily left the house on my own and not out of obligation.
More firsts followed that one. The first smile I didn’t fake. The first bath I gave my son because I chose to. The first date night I truly enjoyed without anxiety. And day by day, those firsts turned into seconds and thirds, and six months turned into a year until I lost track of how many times I was able to do something with my baby. Until I started to feel like I wanted to and could handle being a mom. Until I started to notice love and connection replace the guilt and shame.
I got better one day at a time. Postpartum depression recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. There were times when I would feel incredible for a whole week and then all of a sudden, the depression and anxiety would come back with a vengeance. And even though my therapist warned me that could happen, I would feel defeated and slide back into that dark place I thought I would never climb out of.
But I did climb out. Four years later, I’m here to tell you that it does get better. I wish I could tell you when or how long you will be in that dark place, but I can’t. We are all different and no two cases of depression are the same. All I can tell you is that it won’t be forever, but you CANNOT do it alone. You HAVE to speak up, ask for help, and willingly accept professional treatment. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t do all those things right away.
And as I stand here on the other side of postpartum depression, I’m here to tell you that I know how dark it is down there. I’ve been there. And part of my being on the other side is that I’m here to hold space for all the mamas out there suffering. I’m here to put my hand on your arm and say, “I get it,” the most powerful words we can say to another mom. The words I hope you will be able to say to another mom to let her know she’s also not alone. The words that will make it so no mom ever feels like she needs to pretend or suffer in silence. The words that can change the way we view the struggles of motherhood, because we all struggle and it’s time to say it out loud without guilt, without shame, without fear.
I still struggle. I still have days where I feel down, don’t want to get out of bed, talk to anyone including my own child and husband, and have to force myself to go through the motions of being a mom. I don’t know if that’s the postpartum depression reminding me it’s never too far away. I don’t even know if postpartum depression comes back once it goes away. Maybe I’ve always been prone to some kind of depression.
Maybe this is just me, a mom who wakes up every morning, pops my happy pill, and does the best I can. Some days that means I rock the shit out of motherhood and others it means I drop my kid off at school in the clothes I slept in, put him in front of a Paw Patrol marathon after, and hide in my room eating chocolate until my husband gets home.
Whichever day you might be having, you should be able to talk about it without the fear of being judged. Without someone offering you their opinion or trying to one up your struggle with theirs. You should be able to admit your honest feelings, cry, laugh, and get a ginormous “I get it mama” in return.