By Karen Szabo
I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for over twenty years. Throughout that time, I’ve seen psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. I’ve been on and off medication, I’ve self medicated, and I attempted suicide three times in my teenage years.
I am still here, but I know mental illness is something I will deal with for the rest of my life.
Then, two years ago, I had my son — the most glorious time in a parent’s life — but it wasn’t glorious for me. I knew before my son was born there was a good chance I’d go through postpartum depression, but everything started out terribly: I had an awful pregnancy, I was ten days overdue, and eventually I had to have an emergency c-section.
A few days after my son was born, I could feel my mood shifting. I knew what was coming, but knowing didn’t make it better. I went through six of the hardest week of my life (and that is saying a lot compared to what I’ve been through in my past).
I had a hard time breastfeeding, and my nipples were ripped raw. Literally. (My son actually ripped the skin off my nipples and left behind painful open wounds.) I saw three lactation consultants, a doula, and a pediatrician before something finally worked. A bit excessive? I thought so. But the idea of not being able to feed my own child left me gutted, and I was determined to breastfeed.
Why? Because I had read all of the books claiming “breast is best” — which, by the way, is a saying I hate. I knew I wouldn’t be able to bond with my son if I didn’t follow through.
If I didn’t breastfeed, I thought, I was damaging our relationship.
My son was also colicky: he wouldn’t nap longer than 20 minutes, and he woke every two hours on the dot. As if he wore a watch. I was sleep deprived, in pain, and was thinking that maybe I’d be better off in the clouds above.
Suicide entered my mind daily, but who would feed my son? Who would take care of him?
I had violent thoughts of doing things to make my child stop crying, and then guilt would rise because of those thoughts and I’d feel worse. I was caught in a miserable cycle of guilt and anxiety.
My son also had hypospadias, so I couldn’t circumcise him and had to wait for an appointment for his surgery to correct the problem (which came at ten months). I felt like it was one thing after another, never there in time to catch the break. I felt the snowball get bigger and bigger and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I kept getting hit with challenges. Challenges I didn’t think I’d survive, and I was going through a lot of this on my own. My husband took the first three weeks off work to help me but had to return after that.
He was away for work during the week so I’d be on my own with this child I loved but didn’t know if I wanted anymore.
Thankfully, I had support from our parents and family and friends, but I still felt alone. I was alone in that head of mine, with my nasty thoughts, and violent scenarios playing through. And the guilt was unbearable! I’d cry and I’d yell and I’d cry some more. There wasn’t a day that went by in six weeks that I didn’t cry or think how much I’d rather be somewhere else. I had a hard time getting out of bed but my son would be crying and there isn’t anyone else to get him so I made myself get up.
But this is what postpartum depression looks like. This was my reality.
I went back on medication; I had to, but that only added more to the list of pills I was already taking. At one point, I was taking up to 16 pills a day: anti-depressants, pain medication from my c-section, vitamins, fish oil, and pills that aid in producing milk. (I had no issue producing milk; instead, I had an overactive and painful letdown.)
Slowly, as time passed, I was able to cut down my pill intake so I didn’t feel like such a pill-popper. I put down those mommy books that tell me that I’m doing everything wrong, and as soon as I was cleared to start working out again, I did — and that helped phase out the evil voice in my head. I’ve developed a lot of self care techniques to help me along the way, some have failed while others succeeded.
So to all mothers out there who are going through the same thing, know this: you’re not alone. You will never be alone. Depression, postpartum or not, is a real thing and it’s OK.. You are OK.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karen lives with her husband, her busy kid, and her tiny pup. With a long history of mental health, she is finally putting her thoughts to paper, hoping to reach others by saying it all out loud. She writes on her blogs, The Antsy Butterfly, and her work has appeared on The Mighty.
Follow Karen on Twitter: @AntsyButterfly.