A lot of women with postpartum depression (PPD) either don't realize they have it, or don't come forward because the stigma surrounding a diagnosis is so strong. As if going through pregnancy, labor, and delivery aren't physically traumatizing enough, there's the impact it all has on the mental health of a new mom; an impact that's too often overlooked. I know, first hand, about the painful things people don't even realize postpartum depression entails. I've been there. In fact, my "there" was such a dark, desolate place, I'm lucky to still be here typing these words right now.
In the early days of new motherhood, my postpartum self lived in what felt like a foreign land found somewhere between reality and despair. While I tried to take ownership of my new role as "mom," my failures haunted me every waking moment of every single, exhausting day. I became so depressed that even though I still found a way to care for my daughter, I knew I wasn't giving her all of me. Instead, I was acutely aware that most of me was gone; rotting away somewhere, hidden and scared and alone.
Days, and weeks, and months passed. I wanted to be who I was before I became a mom, or even a better version of who I was so that my daughter would have the best of the best, but I felt like there was no place for me in this new world I had created for myself. Breastfeeding caused so much anxiety that it interfered with the bonding process, and even after going to a bottle it felt as though the damage had already been done. My thoughts spiraled into places I never hope to go again. I felt worthless, as if I was a disease to my new family and they would be better off without me.
I didn't realize until it was almost too late, but postpartum depression had overtaken my brain. It made me hallucinate reactions from others that weren't actually real. It forced me to feel things about myself, and my surroundings, that weren't true. It stole the woman I was and annihilated her until all that was left was an imprint of the past. Postpartum life, for me, felt like something of a slow death. I knew I was sinking but didn't know how to pull myself out, or even how to muster enough courage to ask for help. That's just one small fraction of postpartum depression that people don't seem to acknowledge or realize exists, which is why we, as a society, need to continue talking about postpartum depression. So, with that in mind, here some truly painful aspects of PPD:
The Physical Symptoms
A lot of people may not realize that postpartum depression manifests physically. Not only did I suffer from a major downshift with my mental health, but I also had to deal with migraines, a sensitive stomach that had me running to the bathroom through the night (almost like ulcers), body aches, and fatigue. Depression feels like a heavy cloak you can't take off, and immediately after having a baby my postpartum life meant wearing this cloak while trying to heal from childbirth.
The Fact That There's No "Getting Over It"
There's some well-meaning people who may not understand the illness, or not know how to approach a conversation that involves postpartum depression. When I went through postpartum depression I heard the gamut. From "think positive thoughts," to "it'll feel better with time." No. No to all of this.
Not only is it incredibly painful to hear those empty phrases, they help nothing and no one. Postpartum depression is a result of chemical changes in the brain — just as any other mental illness. While optimism and positivity may ease symptoms, you can't think your way out of the depths of depression, just like you can't think a broken arm into healing itself.
The Overwhelming Anxiety
I had anxiety rocking my baby. Putting her to bed. Trying, and failing, to breastfeed her. I had anxiety when people came over. When they didn't. When I went to the doctor. When I went to the grocery store. When I tried to go to sleep at night. Everything made me anxious, and that anxiety fedc my depression because I wanted to isolate myself in order to protect myself. It was a cycle I couldn't will my way out of, and a lonely, painful one at that.
The Need For Personal Space
It was a delicate balance to communicate the need for personal space, but also let people know that I didn't want to be left alone entirely. I couldn't stand being in crowded rooms or, really, around people at all. My thoughts were twisted. I didn't want to talk about what I was going through, because I didn't understand it myself. I also didn't want others to try to relate with their own stories of postpartum depression. None of it made me feel better. My friends, family, and even my partner didn't realize how painful it was to need space, but not too much. Honestly, I didn't know, either. It's that complicated.
The Lack Of Sexual Desire
Of course my partner and I weren't supposed to do anything physical until the doctor cleared me, but even after I got the "OK" from my OB-GYN, my emotions were so low that sex wasn't even a thought in my head. How could I be close to someone if I, myself, didn't feel human enough to exist? It certainly put a dent in my relationship, because my partner didn't understand what I was going through. He felt rejected, unloved, and in turn, I felt guilty for not giving him what he needed (in all aspects of our relationship, not just sex).
The Endless Feelings Of Despair
Not only does postpartum depression come with all the physical ailments, low sex drive, and overall sense of worthlessness, I couldn't escape my feelings of despair no matter what I did. I cried all the time. Nothing made me happy or echoed a vague hint of a smile I once had. I felt like I'd failed at everything and nothing could ever feel OK again. When you're this sad, it hurts on a level so deep, it seems as though you'll never see the light of day again. That's how I felt for the first year of my daughter's life.
I mean, everyone hated me, right? How could they not? I ruined every event we canceled, changed our schedules to accommodate me and my anxiety, and brought everyone's mood down just by being near me. I felt as if my daughter would grow up to resent me because I couldn't bond with her like I wanted to and like I'd heard I was supposed to.
The Inability To Convey What's Wrong
I knew what I felt inside — a darkness, to be sure — but I didn't know how to verbalize the pain. I only knew it hurt. A lot. Breathing hurt. Just being alive hurt. To say that aloud meant I was somehow surrendering and that made me feel like a failure, too.
The Desperate Need For Sleep
Another vicious cycle of postpartum depression was feeling so tired all the tie that all I wanted to do was cry or sleep. Then, when I'd try to close my eye, my brain wouldn't shut down and I developed insomnia. Eventually, I went through periods of only wanting to sleep or not sleeping at all. This made life with a newborn that much harder than it already was.
The Suicidal Thoughts
I wanted to die. For a long time. I didn't follow-through, thankfully, but at the time, my mind wandered further and further into this endless chasm of "I shouldn't be here." I was too confused to understand my own self-hatred, and too embarrassed to talk to anyone about how depressed I'd become. It wasn't until my doctor noticed the somber look on my face and ushered me towards seeking immediate treatment — while assuring me I was normal for feeling the way I did — did I find the help necessary to heal.
Once past the patchwork of depression in my unique quilt of life, I could look back through another scope of appreciation, instead of resentment. Even though others didn't know my pain to its truest extent, I hope I can continue speaking out about it so, from now on, they will. Not just for me — for everyone.
If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts, please know — you're not alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255 to speak to someone who cares.