Sometimes, the most basic tasks can be insurmountable when battling postpartum depression.
For many mothers, basic self care and ventures outside of the house can seem impossible and exhausting. Thankfully, Tessa Jensen from Literary Marvel decided to share her postpartum depression story. She describes a single moment that put her over the edge. You can feel the frustration and fear in her words. How many of us have been in a situation like this? Wrangling kids in a public place while battling a mental health disorder is no easy feat and bystanders rarely make it any easier.
This is Tessa’s postpartum depression story.
We had four children in four and a half years. People question my mental faculties regularly. “Were they planned?” or “that’s insane” and other variations of those two questions. I live near Seattle where children’s value falls somewhere under dogs and vacations. The shakes of the head and the condescending glares do not go unnoticed, for anyone who thinks their disapproval is stealthy.
When our youngest was five months old, I decided to brave the library. We had not left the house for any adventures in a long time, and my mom-guilt had reached its pinnacle. My kids bounced happily into the van, sure of impending excitement. We pulled into the parking lot. Unloading everyone required my attention be focused in three different directions; preventing the kids from walking away from the car in their innocent oblivion, getting the stroller out of the trunk so I could attach the car seat to it, and making sure my purse was firmly hanging from my shoulder.
One step towards the door and I was on the verge of a panic attack. My head was pounding, and my heart was racing. I forced a smile as we made our way to the front door, preparing for whatever word vomit would come my way. I knew people didn’t agree with my choice. My haphazard appearance likely confirmed their assumptions:
- A frumpy shirt with smears of spit up and the residue of sticky fingers.
- The grow-out from an asymmetrical haircut.
- Baggy pants to hide the remains of once robust and sturdy legs.
- Dark circles under my eyes exaggerated by two-day old mascara.
How could having children be magnificent if I looked anything but?
Upon entering the library, an old curmudgeon who was masquerading as a security guard looked at each child passing him as if they had three heads and the body of a platypus. He met my eyes and said with a smirk “Geez, Mom, don’t you know when to stop?”
I clenched my jaw and walked past him, confident that he would feel sorry for what he said when he saw my terse response. He didn’t. When he thought we were far enough away, he walked over to the librarian’s desk. With one elbow leaning casually on the counter he pointed out another crazy woman had arrived. I wanted to kick his pretentious legs out from under him. My thoughts had been resistant to the higher road for a while.
Our visit was a fiasco. One child hustled through the children’s books grabbing any book that was purple, pink, or yellow. One was yelling to test how far their voice could travel through a large building. All were wrestling and tugging on a stool to peer into the fish tank. A sour-faced middle-aged librarian raised an eyebrow and tried to make eye contact. I ignored her. Ignoring people goes against who I am, but on that day, it was the kinder option.
Book check-out was the final confirmation that we were better off at home. Pushing and shoving ensued while I searched through my wallet for my library card. Someone fell over. Another bonked their forehead on the counter. The ruckus drew the attention of everyone within earshot. Some watched in horror while others had a semblance of pity in their eyes. My face was getting hot. I could sweat drip down my back. I scolded my children through clenched teeth while shoving the books in the sorry green bag that ripped down the side. I picked my toddler up a little too forcefully and stormed for the exit. My older two looked at me with an understanding that their mom was about to lose it.
Arriving home was akin to gulping oxygen after trying to hold your breath for a little too long. Two kids made for the backyard while the baby and toddler went down for naps. I walked to the window facing the yard and opened the blinds to watch my little ones. My adventurous son and artistic daughter laughed together as they searched for potato bugs with their sticks. Their cherubic faces were free. Outside they did not have to worry about being too loud, too messy, too much like a child. I determined they were happier away from me than next to me. My lower lip began to quiver as tears welled up in my eyes.
I collapsed into our oversized rocking chair and sobbed. I hung my head and pulled my hair with balled up fists. I screamed into a pillow as I felt my body filling with rage and anguish, both vying for a spot at center stage. I screamed louder and longer. I had dreamed of being a mother for as long as I could remember. I loved my children. And I was making their lives miserable. They seemed scared of me.
The exhaustion and emotional struggle began with my first pregnancy. I was sick. My sleep was fitful. I could not exercise or write or read without feeling sick. My babies were so close together that there was no chance to recover fully. Without any recourse I could see, I broke. My resilience was gone. I was hopeless.
The accumulation of pain needed to get out. If it didn’t, I was afraid I would end up in the psychiatric ward of a hospital, rocking back and forth while muttering fragmented thoughts.
So, the alternative was to hurt myself. I clawed at my skin and slashed my arms. I contemplated the quickest way to die. I doubted anyone would think much of finding my body and burying a troubled woman.
I know we all get a bit squeamish at these admissions. We want people to keep that noise to themselves. “This is not a proper conversation! You might upset someone!” It may not be the conversation piece for Thanksgiving, but it does need to happen. Depression festers in isolation, so let us illuminate it. Not to dwell on being depressed but to acknowledge the reality and consequences of it.
For months I felt that my children and my husband were better off without me. My husband is so kind I knew he could easily find the woman I wasn’t; calm, patient, quick to smile, the ability to bear another’s burden with grace and dignity. I listed every way I failed them, from my weight to my emotional outbursts to the lack of home-cooked meals. I would not talk about the battle raging in my mind. I would not admit the likelihood that I would soon be a casualty.
My white-knuckled approach to dealing with feelings I categorized as “unbefitting a mother” did no good. I hindered myself by preventing anyone from helping me. I turned my pain inwards watched it devour my hope and my happiness. Dense clouds of misery hung over our home, threatening to storm at any time. I hated myself for being human. My atoms felt as if they were threatening to splinter into shards of misery.
I used to associate rock-bottom experiences as being unique to addicts. They are not. Any new mother can slip on the precipice on stability if they discount the warning signs of postpartum depression long enough. Sliding down the rock face is rapid and lonely – nothing to hold. No rope. No hand.
I only survived – and healed – when I was willing to accept help. I needed my husband, my friends, professionals, an entire community, to help me. I had to embrace the fact that I could not do it alone.