I’ve been sitting and staring at this screen for the better part of an hour. I’m in a dark place today and I’m not sure why. I’ve been handling things with it being my husband’s busy season. My doctor and I came up with a plan – I’ve added Wellbutrin to my medication regimen (coupled with Zoloft) and it’s helped so much this tax season. Then today I read a report about a young mom who committed suicide when her baby was four-months-old.
That could have been me. It was about this time ten years ago that I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, my son was four months old, and as I sat on the couch and made that first call, I felt so alone, like such a failure. As I read the article on For Every Mom about her and her family, their words echoed in my heart,
It is exactly because they received no warnings and red flags from Allison that her family is speaking out, urging loved ones and spouses of new moms to go the extra mile to make sure they aren’t also hiding a crushing, life-ending depression and pretending that everything is fine while secretly planning a permanent way out.
Mental illness is something we are so ashamed of in this country. We hide behind our curated Instagram profiles, Snapchat filters, and Facebook groups, claiming community and happiness, but so many of us feel lonely, isolated, depressed. I think society is probably the most connected now than it ever has been but I can’t tell you how many moms I talk with that tell me how alone they feel. Since I was diagnosed with depression back in 2009 I’ve relapsed four times. Four times of battling depression isn’t that bad when you think about it but any relapse into depression can be life threatening.
I remember those first nights when my son was a baby; I laid awake in bed listening to him cry as my husband tried to soothe him. That’s when the lies started.
“They would be better off without me.”
“My parents could help Ben out and I don’t think I’d be missed that much.”
The truth is that if you looked at my Facebook back then you’d see a happy mother. You wouldn’t see the young mom freaking out insisting her baby was dying because he projectile vomited on her. You wouldn’t see the wife who called her mother insisting she had to leave her husband that day as she packed bags. You wouldn’t see the mom yelling at 2:00am, at the top of her lungs in her baby’s room for her child to just shut up.
If you looked at my social media life you would see one of two things: Pictures of happiness or nothing at all.
I don’t know what the answer is in this. I’m just a depressed person trying to explain to you how tricky this disease is. Somehow, well, honestly by the grace of the Lord, I’ve had someone intervene with me every time I’ve lapsed. I wasn’t ready to talk about this most recent set back but it’s far away enough and after reading about Allison Goldstein losing her battle with depression that I have to speak. I feel this urge deep inside my soul, as I read about her family’s heartbreak, the little girl who is left behind and the husband who no doubt loved her more than she understood, that I cannot be silent. Here goes…
About a year ago, I was fine and dandy. Life was good, I had been on a Disney press trip which always serves as an ago boost, plus it’s like going to summer camp. You’re surrounded by like-minded people on these trips and you’re away from the kids and life, it’s perfection.
I came home and this dark cloud hung over my head. The cloud that depression places on your life is like the weather. Some days it’s partly sunny, some days are torrential downpours and there are even clear skies mixed in every now and then.
Each day you wake up with the same hope: Clear skies. Like I said, sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s what living with depression is like, especially when you’re stressed. I had been in a state of stress from April through the entire summer and into the fall. I kept thinking things would get better when…That’s part of the lie you tell yourself.
“I’m fine, things will get better when the kids are back in school.”
“I’m fine, things will be better when my book is finished.”
” I just need to get through finishing the basement, then everything will be fine.”
It’s almost like you live your life in this hopeful state, never living in the present, always looking ahead to get to that next spot when everything will align and be fine.
Only sometimes, it’s not fine. Sometimes you encounter something that completely throws you off and triggers a response in your heart that’s ugly, scary even. For me my trigger happened when I took one of my daughters to her early childhood screening. All was going well until they asked her to draw a circle. She completely shut down. She became anxious and wouldn’t even look at the teachers assessing her. I left the appointment feeling discouraged and at fault. Why? Somehow I had come up with this theory that both of my daughters struggle with anxiety because I was on antidepressants when I was pregnant.
I didn’t think I felt guilty about being on antidepressants during pregnancy but that’s depression for you, it takes one fleeting thought and holds onto it as truth. As I was recalling everything for my sister on the phone, I told her my fear, my theory that this anxiety I saw my girls having was my fault. My selfishness in wanting to be mentally healthy had ruined them.
Laura, my sister, listened to me and then said, “Beth (side note my family calls me ‘Beth’), there is absolutely no scientific evidence in what you’re saying right now. Are you sure you’re okay?” I don’t know why or how but for a brief moment I felt clear about life. It’s like the black fog that had been residing in my mind lifted long enough to recognize what was happening. We talked for a little while and then I began to weep. I called my husband at work and sobbed into the phone when he answered, “I’m not fine. I’m not okay, I need you.” He raced home and found me, his wife, broken again. Four times we’ve done this dance and every single time he is gentle and loving, he doesn’t try to fix me right then the way most guys do, he just is. He’s just there. He just takes on doing everything for the kids. He just does life and keeps things moving when I can’t.
Then my family goes into hyper drive. My sister calls my mom, who always gets in the car with my dad and drives the six hours up to the Twin Cities. No questions asked, no guilt trip for the inconvenience.
That day I called my doctor and made an appointment; because of my history they get me in right away because they know when I call and say, “Something’s off, I think I need to increase my dosage,” I mean it.
At the appointment I take the same depression survey that I’ve taken every year for the last ten years. I never try to look at my score, I’m sad, I know I’m depressed, what’s the point of a survey telling me that. My doctor comes in and because I said that I had been having thoughts about life being better without me, we have to go into the details of what that means and am I okay. I’ve never gotten to the actual planning of ending my life, I’ve done some hypothetical thinking on what life would look like and how would things go on without me.
Those dark thoughts, the ones about ending life, are the ones I think we, the depressed, all try to hide from our shiny social media life. I’m not hiding mine anymore, I’ve had them and that’s the gut wrenching truth. It’s a difficult thing to talk about though.
If we’re going to combat depression we have to create a real life, real human interaction with the people we come in contact with every day. It can’t be online, we weren’t meant to do life through screens. Humans were meant to live together and when we assume everything is okay because of what we see through a screen we give into the lie depression tells.
Maybe you’re reading this and you aren’t depressed, you can’t even fathom being depressed, let me ask you to please hear my words and believe me when I say depression is a disease. It’s like cancer, asthma, Type 1 diabetes. You can’t run from it or pretend it’s not there because it is and every year it takes more lives. Be intentional with your friends and family. If things seem off say something. Pick up the phone and call your friends. Really, how good does it feel when you can actually hear someone’s voice? Make plans and put yourself out there. Don’t wait for someone to initiate getting together, do the initiating, you may not realize it but a depressed person just wants to hide. If you’re waiting for a call or invitation, just make one happen.
You don’t know what’s happening on the other side of that screen. Social media life is not real life. Be the change and live right now out loud away from a screen.
As the creator of the lifestyle blog and book, Me Before Mom, Bert supports millennial moms facing the challenges and changes of motherhood. Me Before Mom is an online community that offers support through real life stories, encouraging advice, and answers to questions about how a woman maintains herself during this self-sacrificial time of parenthood. Stories from Bert Anderson have helped women across the globe through the Huffington Post, Today’s Parent, and on the Harry show. Whether weathering the first year of motherhood or walking through the later stages of motherhood, Bert has helped many continue to find herself while still in the throes of motherhood. Purchase your copy of Me Before Mom: Putting Your Oxygen Mask on First today!