I know it sounds backwards… but few things help one feel less isolated than being told you are “strong” when you are suffering with postnatal depression. I don’t feel strong. I don’t want to feel strong. I want to feel happy. I want to feel better. Telling me I am strong reminds me of how much weight I’ve had to lift emotionally throughout my life, and right now nothing about my past matters.
I am only here now; feeling alone, scared, weak, embarrassed, ashamed, inadequate, angry.
Telling me I am strong lends a sort of dismissal to my very real feelings and inability to handle them. It’s patronizing to tell someone “Buck up, Cowboy! You’ll get through this! You are strong!” OK. Thank you. It’s condescending when you say “Isn’t your beautiful baby enough to make you feel like superwoman!?” No. She is beautiful, and I am grateful for her and my beautiful son, and my wonderful husband, and my beautiful home… (Does this sound like a Talking Heads song yet?) and yes, I have so much to be grateful for but I am not happy. I worry about my baby constantly. I am angry most of the day. Every time I leave the house I feel like I am going to have a meltdown or a panic attack, and I feel about as far away from strong as I ever have. Don’t remind me I am strong because I’ve gotten through “actual” stress, or that I have lived through “much worse” than this. I know I have. You don’t think I remember that every time I look at the happy smiling face of my healthy baby? I have been to the depths of depression before, and yes, I lived through it. Lived. Maintained. Carried on. But how is that being strong? My sadness didn’t kill me. It doesn’t make me strong or weak? I just didn’t die.
The reality of it…
My days can be horrid, where I go to bed regretting every single thing I did or said and lie there hating myself and my inability to react appropriately to stress. My head hurts, I hear my heartbeat in my eardrums. I constantly feel overheated, like each hair follicle is a lit match. I go back and forth between hurtful memories and trying to think of happy ones to calm my racing heart and burning chest. “Think yourself out of this.” It doesn’t work. My hands are sweaty. I can’t keep my body still, and I can’t find a comfortable position because “Why were you so hard on your son today? Math is hard for you too, why didn’t you just show some patience? Why don’t you have any patience? Whats wrong with you?” rinse and repeat. I see the house needs cleaning, or the laundry needs folding and I just don’t care. No, It’s not that I don’t care.. I just can’t care. Then I leave the house.
“…Everyone is looking at me.
They’re judging my postpartum body, aren’t they?They think I look like a bad mom. Maybe you are a bad mom. Remember when you snapped over the literal spilled milk at dinner last night? Whats wrong with you. You’re not strong. You’re mean, and you’re ruining your child’s life…..”
I am not strong, I can’t do this alone, and I need help.
I had an extremely traumatic birth experience, where my attempt at a beautiful home birth landed me in the emergency room. I had blood transfusions, suffered multiple panic attacks both before and during surgery, in addition to feeling the majority of the caesarean in my rib cage. As my husband was whisked away with our newborn daughter, he heard my heart rate go flat. Once out of surgery, it took several people to hold me still enough to nurse my child while unconscious, because of the shock tremors. I made it through that, so clearly I’m strong, right?
Two weeks later, my husband lost his job of 10 years and a tremendous salary that allowed me the gift of being a stay-at-home mother. When he felt weak and wanted to crack, I was strong for him. I am strong, right? I got through the first couple of weeks of nursing, despite how difficult they were and breastfed my baby exclusively for the first 6 months of her life. I should be proud! Nursing can be tough. I should feel strong, right? I had a difficult childhood wrought with emotional and sexual abuse, and I didn’t commit suicide or develop a drug dependency.
That means I’m strong, right?
I now am faced with the looming weight of having to go back to work and never have I felt more afraid. I am afraid of being away from my children. I am literally crippled with that fear anytime I think about being at work and having to deal with any of the multitude of problems that can arise, and knowing that I won’t be able to handle any one of them. I can’t even handle driving most days, and going to a store is extremely hit or miss. How am I going to handle an angry customer, or a mistake that I made because I can’t focus on literally anything anymore? My memory is worse than it’s ever been, how am I supposed to be good at anything involving money? Someone is going to get upset about something trivial while interacting with me and I will either go hide and cry in a bathroom stall, or I will react WAY too aggressively and end up making it 80 times worse. My emotions have no filter. It’s like I ping pong from anger and seething rage (over what, in hindsight, seems frivolous), to wanting to literally hide and cry in bed, to ending up talking WAY more than is socially appropriate just to keep myself seeming relevant – even though I know I am coming across as self-absorbed and annoying… then feeling a overcritical sense of embarrassment and shame for being so transparent.
I try my hardest to seem “normal”. I think I’m doing a pretty good job for a few days until something is even slightly troublesome and then I completely break. I’ve never been good under pressure, and I am willing to admit that.. This is different. I feel totally helpless to my negative thoughts, my doubts, and my fears. It’s all I see in myself now. I shouldn’t even be here. I died during surgery, that was supposed to be the end for me.
So please, don’t tell me I’m strong. Tell me you hear me, tell me you see me for what I am and you don’t mind if I am worn thin. Tell me you will try to help me. If you find me weak and want to add how much more difficult your birth/life/experience is than mine and you somehow managed to make it through without postnatal depression, kindly make your way to the nearest short pier and take a long walk.
Thanks in advance, Someone who needs you to understand.