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What It's Like When Postpartum Depression Takes Your Mind Hostage

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It’s tough to explain depression to anyone who has never dealt with it, but I’m going to try. Postpartum depression feels like a part of your brain went rogue and betrayed you by holding the rest of your brain hostage, for no particular reason. The defected part of you has decided to call itself, “The Depressionist.”

You try to talk to it, to reason with it and for a while, you feel like you’ve succeeded. You start to feel tentatively optimistic when it’s been out of the room for a while — but it always comes back.

At first, you slightly feel you’re about to have a spell. You catch it suddenly as you’re completing some mundane task like putting away groceries. It hits you like the first wind of autumn. You feel it, and as soon as you recognize it, it’s gone. You carry on, just feeling ever so slightly out of place.

As the hours pass, you feel that once subtle feeling intensifying. You start to try to talk yourself out of it, telling yourself everything is fine, as you do every time. You also lose every time, but bless your heart, you still try. You start to feel that anxious, nauseous feeling deep in your stomach. Your logical mind starts racing, attempting to do damage control and keep everything in check, but The Depressionist is being obnoxious and loud and pushing past the barricades. You stare off into space, oblivious to anything other than what you dread is happening inside your head.

Your husband will look over at you with brows furrowed, asking if everything’s OK. You will lie, force a smile and in your most “normal” voice, you will say, “Yep! Everything’s fine, my love.” It’s not a lie, really. More like a pleading wish you reverberate back to yourself to try and stifle the ever-growing feelings. Neither of you are convinced you’re OK.

Your husband will start to act differently around you. He will think he has done something wrong. He hasn’t. You will try to explain again it has nothing to do with him. He will not understand what is happening inside your head. He never does, but then again, neither do you. He will say sweet things to you, like “I just miss you. I miss having fun with you. I miss being with you.”

You will feel crippled by guilt and hear, “You’re not doing good enough.” The positive voice inside the still functioning, “normal” part of your brain is trying to rationalize, and says, “You know damn well that’s not what he meant,” but The Depressionist is now talking louder and being more assertive. The passive, positive voice lowers its eyes and starts to grow quieter.

Your kids will also notice something isn’t right. They will say things like, “Are you sad, Mommy?” They will do things to cheer you up, like giving you sticky kisses and blowing raspberries on your stomach. You will force an even bigger smile, lie again and say, “Mommy’s not sad, sweetheart! Let’s play!” You do this while forcing back tears because you now feel even worse, even more like a failure.

You will hate yourself for feeling like you’ve infected your home, your husband, your own children. You avoid interacting with people because you know they will ask how you’re doing, and you are too mentally exhausted to act happy. Sometimes you do see a friend, and you tell them you’ve had “a touch of depression” with a smile, trying to make light of what you’re really going through because you don’t want to see them get that look of unease. You don’t want to infect them, too. You might feel like you have a thousand ants crawling under your skin, and it’s taking everything in what little power you have left to not burst out of your skin and scream. You will either feel that or feel nothing.

The worst part is the normal, logical side of you is still in there, bound, gagged and trapped in a glass aquarium, watching everything and trying to figure out a way to get out and save the day. It’s trying so hard to devise a way to break out and overturn The Depressionist, but it just can’t right now.

Every day, you try to wait out the hours until it’s time for sleep. You’re exhausted from fighting and trying to be all right, but you won’t sleep. Instead, you’ll just lie there, listening for the soft sound of your husband snoring. Once you hear this, a tidal wave of relief washes over you and hot, wet tears start flowing fast from your eyes.

Sometimes, you feel like every atom in your body is flooded with this oppressive sadness. Sometimes, you feel nothing. You don’t make a sound. You’re now a pro at silently crying. You can’t staunch the steady stream. It just washes over your face like the desert rain flowing over ground. This goes on, until you either drift off into a turbulent sleep, or you don’t.

Some nights, you will have barely closed your eyes, only to be jolted awake by the baby crying. Even worse, some nights the baby doesn’t cry, but The Depressionist is bored and has his buddy Anxiety over. They make prank calls in your head, telling you the baby is screaming and something is wrong. You will jump out of bed, open the door and hear absolute silence. There is no crying. There is no danger. Everyone is peacefully asleep. You go back to bed, exhausted to a level you didn’t know existed. You’re exhausted, but you still can’t sleep.

Some mornings, you wake up and you’re still wet from the tears. Your head pounds like a hangover. Your body is sore and dehydrated. You take forever to get up so you don’t wake up your husband. When you finally do lift your head, you see your pillowcase displays the evidence of your nightly deluge, and you quickly turn it over so nobody sees it. You’re ashamed and mad at yourself for letting The Depressionist get to you. You try to muster up the positive thoughts, but all you hear are crickets.

The cycle continues, day after day.  Sometimes, the hostage situation lasts only a day or two. Other times, it’s weeks. It goes on until you’re almost out of provisions, until you’ve almost completely forgotten how you used to feel before. Almost.

Then, one morning, you wake up and feel back to normal. Just like that, The Depressionist grew bored overnight and receded back to its hiding spot. You feel intense relief and happiness. It’s done. The hostage crisis has abated, and you’re back to yourself again. You smile, your husband and your kids smile and you have an amazing day.

You forget about The Depressionist, or at least you try to. You don’t even want to think of it, for fear of bringing it back around. You pray it’s given up on its anarchist mission of destruction, that it’s finally left you and your family in peace. You don’t care what it does to you, but seeing and knowing how much it hurts your family is what kills you inside. You love them so much, and you want to protect them from anything and everything that hurts them, even from yourself.

So you keep fighting. Because you know one day, you’ll truly be rid of it.

Image via Thinkstock.
Originally published: October 3, 2016
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