7 Personal Red Flag Moments That Made Me Realize I Was Suffering From Postpartum Depression
If I close my eyes, I can still feel the cold bathroom tiles beneath me. Crouched in the corner of the room, lights off, door locked; this was my stark reality for far too long. I remember my partner shouting for me to let him in, fearful of what I might do. I couldn't verbalize all the chaos in my head and I didn't yet know how to express my fear, too. This was just one of my personal red flag moments that made me realize I was suffering from postpartum depression, but it wasn't the last. Sadly, not even close to my breaking point, either.
After a difficult first pregnancy — filled with hormonal surges, hypertension that forced bed rest, and the loss of all emotional control whatsoever — I held my beautiful baby girl, born at 10:17 a.m. on Oct. 11 after being induced two whole days prior. I was on the verge of needing a c-section when she decided it was time for her debut (a pre-curser to her personality, I would come to learn). While I was relieved to be done with pregnancy and all the horror it put me through, I felt a new sensation pummeling through me: doom. It's hard to explain in the moment. I can only liken it to an overwhelm so heavy it clouded everything. I wasn't able to maintain my relationship in a healthy way, I hadn't bonded with my newborn, and intrusive thoughts ran rampant in my mind at all hours of the day and night.
The feelings started slowly as my hormones dipped. I was warned of "baby blues," which is explained by The Mayo Clinic as having "mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping," that are totally normal. However, because of my history of depression and anxiety, I was also told to remain vigilant, I knew my normal feelings could morph into something else entirely, something known as postpartum depression (PPD). This form of depression strikes 1 in 7 women and while it's treatable, it's also so severe that immediate intervention is necessary — as it was for me.
To be honest, I hadn't voluntarily sought help when I needed to. I waited and waited and hoped the feelings would change and that, miraculously, I'd bond with my daughter and stop feeling so worthless and empty. Pregnancy, labor, and delivery drained every last bit of self worth I had, so I could no longer recognize the signs or symptoms of my depression. When I went in to see my doctor for (what was supposed to be) a final post-baby check-in, I was in such a dark place there was no light left in me.
Thankfully my partner saw the warning signs of the severe depression, but I'd withdrawn from everyone else so he was the only one. Isolation had become my refuge and, sadly, so had self-harm. That day I went to see my doctor, he noticed things I hadn't been able to express to anyone — especially my partner. I told him I'd been feeling suicidal and while I would never dream of hurting my baby, I could no longer see a place in the world for me. He placed a hand on my shoulder and, with compassion, told me it didn't make me a bad mother. He then handed me a card to a therapist and suggested calling the suicide hotline and assured me he'd help however necessary. It was this conversation that I remember to this day because, quite frankly, it saved my life.
If you or someone you love is experienced any of the below, please know it doesn't make you weak in any way to ask for help. In my case, it actually helped me find myself again when I otherwise might not have. No, actually — I know I wouldn't have.
I Couldn't Bond With My Baby
When I discovered I was pregnant, I was over the moon. I'd always wanted to be a mother and hoped to be a good one. But once she was there, in my arms, something lacked. Of course I loved/love her, but there was an obvious disconnect. She didn't feel like my baby when I looked at her — I was born dark-skinned with a head full of jet black hair while she was the opposite — and I struggled to accept that she was, in fact, mine.
Part of the PPD is disillusion, even with some of the most obvious truths. At the time, it was easier for me to walk away from her when she cried than it was to hold and comfort her; she was a stranger to me and I so desperately wanted to feel differently, but just didn't. I spoke to my partner about this and, thankfully, he stepped up while I took the time to care for my mental health so that, eventually, she and I would (and did) bond.
My OCD And Anxiety Reared Their Ugly Heads
I didn't notice these particular signs at first, because I've been dealing with Generalized Anxiety and Obsession Compulsive Disorder for as long as I can remember. However, after my daughter emerged, my social anxiety maxed out and I couldn't bear the thought of leaving the house for any reason. My OCD tics — things that I believed I had to do for certain reasons such as preventing death, bad luck, or because I'd become obsessed with doing them — grew into exhausting routines I couldn't skip or alter.
Once I got to the point of all-out defeat from the sum total of these disorders, I knew it was time to do something — anything to stop it.
Self-Care Came To A Halt
My weight had already ballooned to an all-time high and, yet, I didn't want to exercise or eat healthy. I didn't even want to shower or change my clothes. All I wanted was to lay and be left alone for all eternity. My brain told me everyone would be better off without me anyway, so why try? These lies stole some of the most precious times from my daughter and I, but I couldn't see it then. I only saw the void.
I Wanted To Sleep All Day (Or Not At All)
Along with my intense mood swings, I'd flip from sleeping all day and night to having insomnia. There was no in between and when you're as sleep-deprived as I was, my depression only intensified; feeding off my lack of positivity for the day. It was an endless cycle I didn't know how to get out of without intervention; be it medicinal, therapeutic, or in my case, both. Sometimes you have to pull out all the stops — especially when your life depends on it.
I Withdrew From Everyone And Everything
There wasn't a thing I wanted to be part of during my PPD days. Life felt like an endless loop of moments I watched from the outside. I could see myself knocking, screaming to be on the inside, but my body and mind wouldn't let me. I was stuck, sinking in cement, and at some point I just stopped trying at all. I figured this was my life now and I could accept either continuing to be miserable, or dying. Those were the only options I understood at the time.
Once I sought help, I realized how much I'd missed (so much). Most of all, everything involved with raising and bonding with my daughter. That's a hard pill to swallow, but hopefully now that I've overcome this dark period, I'm making up for it.
I Lost All Hope For The Future
Hope is such a powerful word that I gave it to my daughter (it's her middle name). Without it, there isn't much to cling to or forge onward when all feels lost. During my PPD, I'd lost my hope. I couldn't see past the very moment I was drowning in and, above that, I didn't believe I'd ever find it again. How do you hope when you can't even feel? That's a question I'd search endlessly for,d without answer. Even now, there are times it wanes, but it's still there. I feel it tucked into the corner of my heart. Back then, I felt none of it but tried to find it in the form of self-destruction. I failed and in the end, all I'd acquired was more pain.
When the hope returned, after all the time I invested to get well, it was like someone flipped the light switch on again. It was dark, but then, it was light again. That's hope.
I Stopped Crying And Drew The Depression Inward
The most prolific moments I had with this disorder happened when all was quiet. When I stopped crying, stopped pleading or hoping or begging to feel something; when I found myself silently planning not to be here anymore. The most frightening feelings I had, were the absence of them. To depict my surroundings without me, feeling it was for the best — this is when drastic measures were needed, immediately.
Once my doctor pointed out these signs to me, these things I'd been living with, it was clear I had to take that first step is seeking help. It's not easy. In fact, it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. But if I hadn't, the alternative was something I didn't want my daughter to experience, despite what my brain told me to believe — a life without me.
I'm thankful for so much now. That my doctor showed the compassion needed for my recovery, that my partner was understanding and supportive in leading the charge to that recovery, and that now, my daughter, who's now 10, doesn't remember the days when Mommy couldn't be all she needed. Now is all that matters to her, and so now, I am here.
I am here.
If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (now) at 1-800-273-8255. It could help save a life. It saved mine.