Can I be honest…like uncomfortably honest (at least uncomfortable for me). I never understood what depression was. If you were to ask me 10 years ago on my thoughts on depression I would have said something along the lines of “well I think people can be a little dramatic they just need to exercise, drink water and take a walk and then they will be fine, they are just acting that way to get attention.” Yes I know, I apologize for my past ignorance and arrogance. That is why it was so humbling sitting in the doctor’s office while he was explaining my options for dealing with my postpartum depression.
Now before I continue I want to give you a visual of what depression usually looks like (especially as a mom) to the outside world. No it does not mean you wear black cry all the time and listen to depressing music. Below are pictures taken during some of the deepest parts of my postpartum depression:
Shocked? Confused? We look like a happy family don’t we? That is because if you are like me (the old me) you saw depression as a weakness. You were taught to smile even when you did not feel like it.
It took me 3 years to recognize I was depressed. You can read more about my fertility journey here but to give you a little background. I had gotten pregnant right before my husband left for a deployment. I was super excited! Unfortunately we had lost the baby. I felt like I didn’t just lose a baby I felt like I had lost a dream and a future. We started trying again and ended up having 3 miscarriages in less than 6 months. I didn’t allow myself to grieve I just kept trying to get pregnant.
Finally I got pregnant with my oldest and being pregnant was awful. I threw up all day…every single day for the entire 9 months and even a few days after I gave birth. I ended up in the hospital 3 times for dehydration. Once she came I thought things would calm down but because of some complications she ended up in the NICU. For the first 10 months she was super collicy. She screamed this blood screeching scream for hours at a time..sometimes up to 5 hours of non stop screaming. A year after she was born I got pregnant again which ended up in another miscarriage. A month after that I got pregnant with my 2nd daughter. And again I had another 9 months of being sick every single day. During these 3 years my husband was also looking for a new job.
Why did I tell you all of that? To basically sum it up: I had a lot going on and never stopped to deal with any of it.
When my second was born I started to notice I was a little “off.” For example, postpartum blues is a normal season of giving birth. However I would get a panic attack every time my husband left the house. I could not breath. Every time I breastfed I would cry and cry for hours, I wanted to stop but I could not. If you asked me what was wrong I would not even be able to give you and answer. I had a hard time bonding with my oldest. I didn’t want her near me or the baby. (As a mother that makes my stomach turn and my heart hurt saying that out loud but I want to mention it because at that time I felt like a terrible mother for not wanting to be around my own daughter). There were times I would stare at my kids and wonder why I didn’t feel that “overwhelming joy or love” for them the way other mothers felt towards their kids. I started sleeping more and taking long showers sometimes 4-5 times a day just to escape. I wanted to be alone and didn’t want to feel anything. I had an unrealistic fear of leaving the house. I started having groceries delivered; not because it was convenient but because I was convinced if I took my kids out in public someone was going to kidnap them.
It is always the enemies plan to isolate us.
I want to stop here and add something God revealed to me: It is always the enemies plan to isolate us. (Why do you think loneliness is one of the biggest issues moms bring up). Our God is a relational God and we cannot do His will if we are not relating with others. The enemy wants to isolate you because he wants you to believe there is something wrong with you. Have you ever had a bad day and asked “what is wrong with me?” That is the enemy planting lies. He wants you to believe that God made a mistake when making you.
Ok I’m off the rabbit trail back to the story…
My sister and mom were the first to notice something was wrong when they came for a visit. They encouraged my husband to talk to me and suggested I get help. I was super angry. (Again trying to be as honest as possible). I didn’t want to admit that I needed help because then I would have to admit that I was failing.
You can read more about how I got help and healed from the depression here. But I wanted to share some encouragement if you or if someone you know might be struggling with postpartum depression.
- Postpartum depression is usually affected by chemicals and hormones in the body.This is why a lot of times women cry a lot when breastfeeding; because when you breastfeed your body releases hormones. Doing simple activities like exercising can raise serotonin in your body (another hormone needed to overcome depression). However because it is affected by chemicals and hormones in our body it’s not something you can “just get over” in a day or two.
- Get counseling. I was hesitant at first; however Tuesdays became one of my favorite days of the week. It was so refreshing to be 100% honest with someone and not worry if they were going to like me. I discovered past hurts that were never dealt with. I discovered more about how I handle (or in my case not handle) stress. I think everyone should see a counselor. If you think you are too good for a counselor then you definitely need to see one.
- You are not alone. It took me awhile, even after I was in counseling, to admit to my friends that I was dealing with depression. I didn’t want them to see me as “the depressed lady from church” I didn’t want people to pity me and ask “how are you really doing honey” when I saw them. I wanted people to treat me like they always had. Once I did start sharing I was surprised to hear how common it was. Empathy is the antidote to shame.
- There are still going to be people who don’t understand…and that is okay. There are some people who still think I was “just having a rough time as a new mom.” I used to be defensive when people said this to me . Then I got to the place where I realized their opinion of me really did not matter. I was tired of fake smiles and “I’m good” answers. I made it my mission NOT to focus my attention on those who disagreed with me and instead spend my time encouraging others who did understand and were in the same boat as I was.
- Just because you are depressed does not mean you will always be depressed. Depression is not your identity. It doesn’t change who you are. This means that it is possible to experience healing and freedom and go on with life without having depression be a “daily struggle.” In John 10:10 Jesus says “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full.” I say this because there was a time I thought I would always be depressed; I didn’t see a way around it. But sitting here now it’s hard to even recognize that old self.
My prayer is that those experiencing postpartum depression would be free of shame and remember God has the ability to make beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3).