After I had my daughter, I suffered from postpartum depression (PPD). It was so severe there were times when my husband had to peel my off the bathroom floor. I got so dark, so fast, and had no control over the things that crept into my brain — including suicidal thoughts. Some of the ways society shames moms dealing with suicidal thoughts aren't conducive to any real healing. If anything, it only stifles a mother's attempts to get well. At least, that's what happened to me.
When the time came for me to deal with my depression (and this was only after my doctor suggested I seek immediate, drastic treatment), I didn't realize the perception others actually had of me. I only knew what I had imagined. I assumed they felt the same way I did — that everyone would be better off without me. I felt sad and hopeless. as if every dream I had for my future, and this family I'd just created, vanished. I believed I wasn't good enough or deserving enough. I thought no one cared about me, and that if I vanished no one would notice.
By the time my partner tied to convince me otherwise, it was too late. I couldn't hear him, or anyone else, because they were blocked out by the chaos and noise my intrusive thoughts were continually making. I became twisted up in them, doing whatever they told me to do, feel, and think. It was an awful way to live. In fact, it wasn't really living at all. Somewhere inside I had already died, and I had no idea how, or if, I would be able to put the missing pieces back together again.
Even with all this going on, I was faced with confusion and cynicism from unsupportive family and friends, as well as lingering stigmas from which society continues to draw from and perpetuate. No mom struggling with and through depression should feel anything less than supported and loved. Here are some of the ways I felt shame from the world around me, when all I needed was a little compassion and understanding (and maybe a hug).
By Reminding Us We Have Too Much To Be "Sad"
When I was going through postpartum depression, I couldn't escape the overarching messages that told me suicide wasn't meant for "someone like me." I had a loving partner, a beautiful new baby, and "so much to live for." That was the phrase everyone used, thinking it was the magical cure that would help me "snap out of it." If only it were so easy.
I felt so misunderstood in my wallowing, so these "reminders" only amplified my suicidal thoughts. What was so wrong with me, after all, if I had all those aforementioned things and still felt worthless? If the people I loved and cared about couldn't understand, who would?
The thing about suicidal thoughts is, they don't take into account your life. Your brain grabs the wheel and steers you away from all rationality. My inner workings were overriding everything, including all that was good in my life. Because depression is truly an illness you can't explain away by pointing to the positives, let's stop elevating the idea that a mom with "so much to be thankful for" can't feel this way. She can, and I did.
By Re-Enforcing The Idea That We Can Do It All
Don't get me wrong, because I do believe women can do it all. I have "done it al, actually. It's just that, when you're a new mom, adjusting to life with a baby and suffering with depression at the same time changes the definition of "doing it all." Some moms (celebrities are notorious for this), have a baby, get their pre-baby body whipped back into shape, and seem to sail through the months just as they did before baby. Maybe they're suffering in silence, but the portrayal is that all moms can do it all without any help because some people appear to be flying solo.
These unrealistic standards perpetuated by fictitious narratives and media images are unbelievably detriment to our mental health. When I had my daughter, my weight was stagnant. Nothing I did removed the excess and, to be honest, I was dealing with a lot of weight. I felt uncomfortable in my skin and, as a result, I didn't want to leave the house. If society pushed the message I was perfect as is, my depression, and suicidal thoughts over not being enough may have been a little less.
By Perpetuating The Notion We Can Just Shake It Off
Depression isn't something I can think my way out of. If I'm locked behind the bathroom door, lying in a pool of my own tears for hours at a time, reminding me to "think positive thoughts" or that I can "choose to be happy" is nothing more than a pile of useless bullsh*t. I have tried to "think happy thoughts," but when the suicidal thoughts inevitably creep back in I'm left feeling like even more of a failure than I did before.
You can shake off depression about as easily as you can "shake off" cancer. These are diseases that break you from the inside out. If society would believe we want to be happy, but don't have the right electrodes firing off in order to, maybe the stigma would lessen.
By Making Her Feel Selfish For Having An Illness
I'm grateful for my children, I love them, and I would never do anything to hurt them. The times I've confessed to having suicidal thoughts to anyone other than a trusted therapist (and my partner), I've been made to feel as though I'm in the wrong. That by having such thoughts — even with no intent to act on them — is selfish on my part. How could I do that to my children? Don't I care enough about them to "fix" myself? This is a loaded question because, in my case, I've been actively trying to fix the broken parts for many years. None of it has erased the suicidal thoughts from my mind completely.
Having a mental illness isn't my fault, just as it isn't any other mother's fault. Our brains don't work the same as someone without it. It's not about getting attention or causing false alarm where they doesn't need to be. For me, it's always been important to talk about it to hold myself accountable, while keeping others informed of where I'm at.
By Not Providing Enough Safe Spaces
Once I started looking into an inpatient treatment facility, people's perceptions of me changed. To them, at least, I was no longer the mother, passionate writer, or animal's advocate they believed me to be. Instead, I was just a mentally ill woman. Even those who offered support weren't always sure how to act around me once my diagnosis was public, and I think a lot of new moms with depression go through something similar, too. Even though everyone reminds us to speak up if we need to, we're afraid.
When we finally muster the courage, we're treated differently; like something's wrong with us or we're not capable of caring for our baby or ourselves. This cycle can be the very reason why some people refuse to talk to others, or reach out so they can get the help they need. We don't want to be the outcast for something beyond our control and still, as I sit here now, I can't help but wonder what would've happened if I didn't get the help I needed. Would my children be motherless? My partner without his mate? Luckily, I don't have to wonder. I'm still here, still fighting, and still grateful for the chance to connect with any other mother who's battling the same. I'm here. You will be, too.