In The Shadows
I read this same article every once in a while. Every single time I recognize myself. Every single time I feel the pain and the shame all over again. Every single time the anger comes in and I am grateful for that because it makes me strong. Sometimes the anger is the only source of strength I can tap into. There's another article about Postpartum Depression going around. It's not so much about PPD but about how little progress has been made in the acknowledgement and treatment of the disease. I'd like to say that I was surprised, but I can't.
I am sick. I have Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. This does NOT make me a bad mother. This does NOT mean that I don't love my baby or that I want to hurt him. I didn't do anything wrong. I do not need to sleep more, or to just try to relax. I am seeing my doctor and I am taking my medication. My boyfriend is amazingly supportive. And I still struggle every single day.
There are so many women out there without the resources that I have been blessed with. I have a boyfriend who made sure I went to each postpartum check up. I have a doctor who did a depression screening. I have a medical university in my town that takes my insurance - and so I have a psychologist that is helping me to cope with my disease.
My father and sister warned me not to share the truth about my depression and anxiety so publicly because Dork Dad could use it as ammunition in a custody case.
My mother was perfectly happy to tell everyone how great a mom I was when I had just gotten home, but felt that my PPD/A was too private to share with our coworkers.
No one in my family has done any research about my disease. They barely acknowledge that it is, in fact, an illness and not a 'difficulty'. They assume that my medicine will fix me and they were confused when I started to see a doctor for therapy as well. They don't ever ask how I am.
Here's the thing: My family is very well educated. They are college and graduate level educated. They are fairly liberal and have had experience with other family members with mental illness. All of these things should weigh heavily on the side of them being supportive and informed, yet if you asked any of them what Postpartum Depression and Anxiety are or to name even 3 symptoms they would not be able to answer you.
If I had cancer this would be different. If I had heart disease or if I had been injured in some type of accident, if I had been struck with MS or ALS they would be raising money for foundations and going to doctors appointments with me.
Above and beyond the general stigma of mental illness in this country and the staggering lack of infrastructure, education and help for the millions of sufferers there is a shadow that the mother with PPD/A lives in. How do you admit that during what should be the happiest time of your life you are miserable? That the sound of your baby grates on your ears? That the panic attacks have taken over and that you cannot leave the house? And if you have intrusive thoughts it is even worse. Trying to explain those to a layman - and even to a doctor - can feel like admitting that your soul has turned black and died.
The only thing that can help - reaching out and having that hand clasped firmly and warmly - can be the most excruciating move to make. I struggle to reach out every day. I struggle to reach out even to the people who are my main support system. I cannot imagine the hell that women without my options go through.
No - I can imagine it. I lived it in the days before I admitted to anyone how sick I was. I kept it all inside and every time someone told me what a great job I was doing it felt like nails being driven through my flesh. I was screaming inside every single second and smiling and joking and doing laundry and cooking and cleaning and falling apart and taking care of the baby and starting a business and living in my own private hell.
I cannot force my family to face what I am going through. They don't want to know. In my fight to get my self back I do not have the energy to educate people who all know how to work the internet and how to find a library. If they asked I would tell them. They don't and so I spend my time trying to reach out to other mothers where and when I can - to let them know that they are not alone.
I don't know how you can help. I wish I did. These are the things I know:
Every OB should be doing a depression screening at each appointment for AT LEAST ONE YEAR post partum. It takes 5 minutes and it can save a life.
Pediatricians should have a list of resources for parents with PPD/A available in their offices.
We need legislative reform to make it easier for women to access mental health professionals. There are too many women who don't get help because they can't afford it.
We each need to take PPD/A and all mental illnesses seriously. If one of your friends or family members is affected DO THE RESEARCH and be as supportive as you can.
Pregnant women and their partners need to be better educated on what to expect, who is most at risk and how to get help as quickly as possible.
I would love to never read one of these articles again… or for any of my family members to read one just once.