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How I Overcame the Dark Days of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

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She curls up in bed, exhausted by the negativity in her mind. She should get up and dressed, but the thoughts in her head are crippling. She just wants to sleep for eternity.

The baby next to her wakes suddenly, screaming. It physically hurts to hear her cry. She grabs the bottle off the nightstand and fills it with formula. Her eyes are heavy with sadness as she remembers the intense struggles to breastfeed. The guilt is overbearing as she recalls the exact moment that she had decided she had to let go of her dreams of breastfeeding her sweet baby. It was just another failure to add to her long list.

She holds her daughter in her arms, tears streaming down her face. The weight of her depression is unbearable. “I’m sorry I’m not the mom you deserve,” she says to the hungry baby in her arms. She finishes feeding the baby, burps her, and tries to lay her down. The infant starts fussing, which quickly turns into earsplitting screams. She picks her up and rocks her gently.

She spends the next few hours rocking, swaying, standing, sitting, and bouncing. Nothing will soothe the crying child in her arms. She’s getting frustrated, “Please stop crying. What am I doing wrong?”

She turns on the bath and gets in with the baby. She tries to calm her racing mind. She takes a breath, and then another. The baby is content in the warm water, and they both begin to relax. A few minutes later, the child is asleep in bed. The exhausted mom stands up and looks around the tiny apartment. She knows she should start cleaning and getting ready for dinner, but she is completely overwhelmed by the chaos and clutter.

It takes every ounce of mental strength she has to care for her infant daughter. At night, during the few silent moments she has between feedings, she is kept awake by irrational fears that, at any moment, something terrible is going to happen to her baby. It is a fear that haunts her every time she leaves her home. She has visions of heartbreaking moments throughout the day of her daughter dying in a horrific manner. It’s easier to just stay home and hold her tight.

Her husband is going to be home soon, and she dreads the moment when he walks through the door. Not because she doesn’t love him or want to see him, but she knows he will be disheartened that their home is a mess still and there is no dinner ready. She is not ready to disappoint another person.

She feels so alone. No one knows the demons that she faces every day. No one knows that her struggles to smile are more than she can handle. No one has asked if she is OK. She feels invisible.

But what she doesn’t know is that soon she will have the courage to tell her family that she is struggling desperately. Soon, she will get the help and support she needed from the beginning. And someday, she will be happy again and see that she is a good mother — she just has to make it through these darkest of days first.

The story you just read isn’t a fictional depiction of life with postpartum depression — that was me. Looking back at the person I was four years ago is terrifying. I had no idea what was wrong with me, only that I was disappointing every person in my life. And I felt inadequate.

Depression told me I was not good enough.
Anxiety said I would never change.
Depression claimed I was defeated.
Anxiety promised I would fail again tomorrow.
Depression asserted I was unworthy.
Anxiety insisted I would never be enough.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 9 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. I was not alone in my experiences, but depression lies. I thought no one could possibly understand the dark thoughts that kept me up at night. It wasn’t until I started seeing other moms talk about their experiences with postpartum depression on a community forum, that I started to understand my struggle was not unique.

Suddenly, I felt hopeful that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I sought help. I talked to my OB/GYN. I talked to my family and friends who offered encouragement and support. Slowly, things got better.

I no longer look at the first year of my daughter’s life with shame. I see a mom who needed help so desperately, but wasn’t offered any. I see a woman struggling to be the best mom she could be. I see a person who tried so hard to be better for her daughter, even on the days when she didn’t have enough strength to care for herself. I see a woman who was so desperate to be better, who just lacked the resources to improve. I see someone who was worthy of love, but who felt inconsequential.

Now I look back on those dark days, and I can see the truth.

Depression told me I was not good enough. It lied, I am adequate.
Anxiety said I would never change. I did, I grew stronger.
Depression claimed I was defeated. I fought it anyway.
Anxiety promised I would fail again tomorrow. Sometimes I did fail, but I kept going.
Depression asserted I was unworthy. Now I know I am deserving.
Anxiety insisted I would never be enough. It was wrong, I am sufficient.

Photo credit: zazamaza/Getty Images

Originally published: April 7, 2019
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