By the time my first baby was born, I had been in therapy for about a year and a half. When I started therapy, I had reached a point where I knew I needed help, and the risk of reaching out for help was outweighed by the burden of sitting alone with the darkness I felt any longer. Therapy helped me a ton and I was in a much better spot when I became pregnant. My husband and I had been married for two years, and though the pregnancy was unplanned, I desperately wanted a baby.
Pregnancy was a roller coaster of emotions, with lots of vomiting. The last couple of months were good, and I felt strong and ready for childbirth, but still unsure of motherhood. My labor was not typical and there were a stressful three days and 20ish hours of active labor that led up to the birth of my daughter. By the time she was born, I was exhausted. The first thought I remember having when my husband placed my baby on my chest was “I don’t know how to do this,” followed by apologizing that she was crying and that I had been too loud during labor. I felt ashamed, like I somehow didn’t do it right. Then I felt doubly ashamed for commenting about the baby crying, because obviously babies are supposed to cry. And what kind of mother would think there is something wrong with her baby crying right after she’s born? No one was putting this on me or making me feel this way. There was also joy and a deep cozy feeling when cuddling my new babe but, mostly, I was scared, tired, and feeling completely unqualified.
The nurse let me “rest” for a few hours after the birth, during which my husband and baby took a nap, and I ate and took a shower. Then the nurse came back in to give me a bunch of instructions on baby care before sending me home with an hours-old extremely delicate creature who completely depended on me for survival. I told the nurse that I was too tired to remember anything and I wasn’t sure I was qualified to care for a newborn. She told me that newborns were made for new parents (which was oddly reassuring) and to set an alarm to go off every two hours all night long, so that I could wake up to feed the baby. She emphasized how important it was that I feed the baby every two hours and wake her up to feed if she was sleeping.
The first night was hard. I remember my husband waking me up because I didn’t hear the alarm going off under my pillow. I don’t remember if the baby was awake, too, in the cosleeper beside our bed, but I do remember that every time I tried to nurse her, she would fall right back to sleep. The next day, I called the nursing support line and they told me she was a “sleepy nurser,” and gave me some tips on how to wake her up to nurse. My mom stayed with us for about three days to help out and my grandparents came to meet the new baby. After about five days, my husband went back to work and I was very much alone at home.
I remember worrying about a lot of things and wanting to do everything right. I remember her gazing into my face as I rocked and nursed her, looking into her big dark eyes and feeling like I was falling down a very deep tunnel. Then weird thoughts would flash through my mind: “What if she can’t breathe while she is nursing, what if she knows I have no idea what I am doing, what if she is a demon? I am not emotionally stable enough to be a mother; what if someone finds out and takes her away from me?” This scared me to the point that I avoided looking into her eyes. I never wanted to hurt my child, but I was afraid of the things going through my mind.
I was especially scared of trimming her fingernails. They were so tiny and her fingers were so precious. I worried that I would snip them with the trimmers by accident. Several people suggested that it was easier to chew baby nails than to trim them, but every time I thought of this, a picture would flash into my mind of my sweet baby’s finger chewed to a bloody nub. Sometimes those flashes would come when I was trimming her nails and I started trimming them only when I was feeling well rested, for fear of having one of those thoughts and freaking out.
There were other things that I knew I weren’t right too. Anytime I saw one of those child safety tags they put on every piece of baby gear, I would visualize whatever horror they warned about happening to my baby. I would lay her in the Pack-n-Play, catch a glimpse of the warning label and have a flash of finding her suffocated. Same with the baby carrier, the stroller, and the baby bathtub. She would cry when my husband tried to put her to sleep at night and I remember worrying that my husband was sexually abusing her, and wrestling with that being a totally crazy thought, but still feeling that I needed to protect her from him. (Please note my husband has never and would never do this. I think this just came up in my mind because my mother had been sexually abused by her father when she was a kid and I was just having really bizarre thoughts). Instead of resting, I would stay awake listening to them on the baby monitor, crying and worrying until she went to sleep. Once she was asleep, I would lay awake in bed thinking about all the horrible crap that could happen, plus my to-do list, and what a fucked-up person I was.
These thoughts were scary to me, but they weren’t entirely new. During the deepest part of my depression a few years earlier, I had similar gruesome flashes any time I saw my husband’s X-Acto knife. That gruesome image was always of the knife slicing my wrists, which is why I finally went into therapy, though I never told my therapist of my concerns about the knife. I was afraid that if I told her, she would have me committed or the have the baby taken away. I was not suicidal, did not use self harm, and absolutely did not want to kill myself.
When my maternity leave ended, I went back to work. I was incredibly sleep deprived because my baby would not take a bottle while I was gone and would nurse every two hours all night long. Her weight percentage had gone down and the doctor was concerned about her getting enough milk and gaining weight. I kept up the night feedings, tried different things to get her weight up and worried about everything. The gruesome images and thoughts kept up for a while, too. I can’t remember exactly when I stopped having them, but I remember having them when some friends came to visit when my baby was about six months old.
Around that time I attempted to handle my anxiety by smoking pot or drinking after I put the baby to bed at night. This helped me numb out a little but, ultimately, it added to my anxiety. Before becoming pregnant, I drank and smoked a lot, and it was too easy to fall back on those unhealthy coping mechanisms. I stayed in therapy for another year and a half for post-partum depression, and my therapist helped me “fact check” some of my irrational fears, like that my baby was going to starve to death or that my husband couldn’t adequately care for her while I was at work. She also helped me figure out what self care was, and generally made me feel loved and supported. Even though I never disclosed everything that I was experiencing, having her support was extremely helpful. I will forever be grateful for how kind she was to me and how much she helped me during this time.
Eventually, my husband and I decided that we were both worn too thin with our work schedules, and figured out how I could leave my job and stay home. When I left my job, I also lost the mental health care coverage I had through my insurance. My therapist and I made a self care and emergency plan in case the depression came back. When I ended therapy, I decided to stop smoking pot entirely. Facing shit without an easy numb-out was harder than I thought it would, and the first three days, everything felt very intense. Even though I didn’t smoke “that much,” I knew it was important for me to quit and develop some healthier ways of being in the world. I also joined a support group, took an online self care class for moms, started exercising, and found a really cool mental health video game that taught me about different aspects of self care.
When my second baby was born two years ago, I asked for more support from my family after the birth and I had a community of moms to talk with. I kept track of my two week timeline for depression and was more aware of how that looks in my own mind. Although there were things that I worried about and struggled with, I did not have any of the scary thoughts or gruesome flashes as the first time around. I did feel overwhelmingly joyful about gazing into his newborn eyes. It was a totally different and less scary experience. Having a completely different post-partum experience the second time has shown me how much of my experience was PPD and not just typical new motherhood.
I hope that my story will encourage other moms to get the support they need if they are experiencing PPD after the birth of a baby or depression years later. It can be hard to see the symptoms when you are in the fog of it, and it is worth seeking help if you aren’t sure about what you’re experiencing. Healing is worth it. You are worth it.
Guys, here’s the thing. I’m tired. Not like “I might grab a nap” tired. More like “I would like to lay down, and become one with the ground and let flowers sprout out of me” tired.
I have to admit that I’m a fighter. I’m a single female with a house, yard, full time job, two dogs, a cat, some fish, a couple hobbies, anxiety, depression, and an autoimmune disorder.
The bit that gets me is that part of my job is helping piece together information on death investigations. There is nothing more soul sucking than a steady stream of autopsy reports, except for maybe watching the slow demise of another human being. That’s eight hours of my day. I love my job. I feel committed to it, and we do good work. It’s just so hard.
When I come home, I have lovely beautiful friends who need me. They need me to support them, and have their backs. They have problems, and I feel like I should help, but I’m tapped out. I’m dry and crumbling. I want so badly to help, but my well is dry.
I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t have anyone to tell.
Yet, all of them have always been under my control. I just didnʻt know it.
All this time, I thought they had complete control of me, but the truth is, and has always been, that my demons for me, like yours for you, are ours to tame, name and obliterate (maim). Once they are tamed and named, they can no longer control you.
They can only be your bitches.
While this might seem very simple, I know it is anything but. I know that it is a demon son of a bitch to deal with the thoughts we think, and it is worse when the PTSD kicks in. I know, too, that people think you are pretending, but, I know that you cannot possibly pretend to be the thing that you have been fighting your whole life long – that thing that other people think and believe is your identity, or, sometimes, they think it is your mask.
It is the monster that no one thinks about becoming real in the lives of domestic violence survivors, and the irritating little mother fucker of a demon that likes to rear its head just when you thought you had the shitty little thing tamed. You find out quickly that these demons donʻt want to be tamed. They want to be what you want to be, which is free and wild. They want to be free to run wildly amok in the hallways of your memory, fucking with you until tears fall, and not only do others stop seeing the real you, even you stop seeing the person you always knew yourself to be.
My own demons like to play with me, they like to knock the fuck out of reality and truth, and they like to tell me that I’m not at all what others think me to be. My demons tell me all the time that I am not capable of doing things the right way, because I do things my way, and my demons like to remind me that I am not the prettiest, or the smartest, they tell me I am the most irritating person and that even the people who love me the most also and equally loathe me.
My own demons fight with me, argue the truth until there is nothing left of it, the proverbial pile of mindfuck particles left scattered around my psyche like some sort of diabolical confetti comprised of the memories that made me feel better, or made me feel awful, or made me think things that were not the truth, or made me believe that I was not ever in control of who I am…but that they were.
Then one day I figured out that those demons were askinʻ for it. They were literally, by right of their continuing to pop up in my life at the most inconvenient times, asking to be seen to, to be heard, to be told what to do and how to behave. They needed me to see to them, to stop feeding them the bullshit that, for so long, had made them sick and ugly and loathsome, and just completely miserable, and that kept me under their control.
Lots of times we do not see that we might be dealing with someone elseʻs demons, and ones that they show to us, and only us, for the purposes of healing them, through the power of love and truth all at one time.
Sometimes, the demons respond favorably, and other times, they fight back, wanting to live and be heard until they no longer have voice to scream at us with, or anger to flail through us with, or any other way of being or thinking that lives within us, because instead of letting them become like flying monkeys, we make them into the little fuckers who, no matter what, we have control of.
We canʻt see ourselves as anything but works in progress, and as such, sometimes we need to help those parts of who we are that are not that great. We need them to compare them to what we want to see, what is already there, and what just requires a little coaxing….
I haven’t told many people about this. Very few know any details. My husband knows the gist of it, but not all of it.
I was around 15 years old and I’d already spent time battling my personal demon. It was named Self-Harm and it came armed with a blade and a lighter.
I swallowed a bottle of… something. I can’t remember what. They had me on so many different medications. They wanted to “fix” me. The mutilation scared my parents. Not, of course, enough to try anything beyond anonymous prayer requests to the church group and a random assortment of pills. That, along with attempts, pleading with me to just stop and shaming me for my behavior, was supposed to be my “miracle cure.”
I don’t remember what finally tripped the trigger and pushed me to that point. Was it an argument? A particularly bad day? I don’t know. I can’t remember.
I remember being rushed to the ER. I remember the staff being unable to get a tube down into my stomach. I remember vomiting, repeatedly, every time they tried. Eventually they stopped trying and handed me a big mug of some charcoal mixture and told me to drink it.
Afterward, I had to stay in the ICU for 24 hours. I should have been sent to the local Psych unit for 72 hours. But I wasn’t. The doctor came in and talked to me.
He made me promise not to do this again, patted me on my head, handed me another prescription, and sent me off.
And that was it.
I went home.
I saw a “Christian Counselor” (despite religion being one of the major things my parents and I fought about) a handful of times over the next six months. My medication was changed a few more times. I can’t even remember everything we tried.
And that was it.
I stopped taking the medication when it was “mutually decided” I should move out.
I struggled with depression and other issues off and on for the next three or four years. It wasn’t until after the birth of my son and my second bout of Paranoid Personality Disorder that I started taking medication regularly or seeing a counselor on a regular basis.
I wonder how things would have turned out if they’d been handled differently way back then?
She tried to die by suicide. I received her text that she was in the hospital while I was tutoring.
“Call me ASAP.”
“I need you to come to hospital and spend the night with me.”
My response: “I know. Still working with a student.”
She: “Ok please get done soon! I need you.”
I: “What hospital?”
She: “I’m at ******. I had a suicide attempt. The nurses know me and hate me here, so they’re doing small mind tortured. Waking me every five minutes–saying duragatory things. They told my parents I’m hallucinating–I’m not, please come stay with me–I don’t feel safe.”
Meanwhile, I am trying to do my online tutoring job. I can see the look of horror on my face on camera while the texts are displaying on my phone. I tell my student I have to talk to his dad. I inform him that I have to leave immediately due to an emergency. I explain while his son is out of earshot. He gives his sincere emotional support. I give a quick run-down of what his son needs to complete for the assignment, then I start packing. I text my husband to let him know that I have to help my friend, then I tell one of my twins that I’m leaving for the hospital.
My brain is racing at the speed of light. I am trying to cover all the bases: what would she need from home that she did not get since she was directly transported to ER? I text her to ask if she needs anything from home before I leave. She would like headphones. I grab my earbuds, but first I have my son help me find an extra set because I would like my own set. After trying a few sets (why is it that teenagers blow through so many earbuds?), I decide to bring my own to share. She might be too tired to listen to music.
I text her to let her know I’m finally on my way. I arrive and remind myself of several things: put on your own oxygen mask first, stay strong, and be her advocate.
She is in the ICU. She has a central port PICC line as well as two IV lines because the medical staff had a hard time getting an IV started. She’s bruised all over. She overdosed on a plethora of medications at her parents’ house while she was housesitting there, including painkillers and her father’s injectable insulin. Her kidneys shut down and the medical staff had to pump her stomach. The medical team pull her labs every two hours to make sure that her levels are improving. Thankfully, the PICC line is a saving grace.
My friend makes comments about the nursing staff. She says that they make comments about her, saying that she OD’d to get attention, that she is a princess and she is going to call her daddy, but when she confronts the nurses about it, they say that my friend is hallucinating. The hospital has a one on one person for suicide watch. This person has to document every little thing that the patient does while under their care. On Saturday night, the one on one person documented all of the unprofessional conduct. While I was there, she said that the nurses were commenting about her again, as well as me. I went up to the nurse and asked her about it. She denied it and said that my friend was “hallucinating and making things up”. I said, “You may say that, but when you talk about patients, others can hear it and that is breaking patient privacy. Everyone else can hear it, and that is not acceptable. It is not professional. You need to stop it.”
The nurse called her supervisor and she came down to talk with all of us. My friend finally voices how she feels. The nurses, of course, covered their butts and say that my friend had been hallucinating from her OD. I interject and say, “Even though that did happen, it is not professional for you to discount how she feels. Nor is it professional of you to talk about her while other people can hear. She does have recipient rights.” The minute I mentioned the term “recipient rights”, the two immediately changed their tune and started apologizing. My friend apologized as well for things (even though in my opinion, she didn’t have to, but it is part of healing the relationship). I asked if my friend could be moved to step down critical care since her levels were improving, and the nurses agreed. Two hours later, my friend was moved to a quieter, private room with a more caring team. Ironically, the bitchy nurse stays after her shift end to help us move.
We get settled in, and my friend finally has the best sleep she has had. Her levels improve so much, her kidneys are normally functioning, and the medical team clears her. The next day, she gets her PICC line removed. My friend keeps telling me to go home, that she is OK. All of a sudden, we learn that Community Mental Health (CMH) is on their way to start the intake process to find her a facility. Things start accelerating at an astronomical rate, and my friend has no idea how to process this. I stay to help her process things and to be her advocate. Her parents come to the meeting, as well as her husband. I ask the CMH representative if it is OK if I stay during the meeting to be her advocate and he said if it was OK with her it was OK with him.
Here is where I see mental health stigma magnified. Thankfully, the CMH person is neutral, asks all the appropriate questions, and takes my friend’s requests seriously. I was floored when my friend’s stepmom was blaming my friend for what happened. She said, “Your dad is so angry at what you did to him.”
I couldn’t hold it back anymore. I said, “I’m sorry. With all due respect, when you make comments like that to her, you are blaming her for her illness. We need to help her instead of telling her what she did wrong. She didn’t do this to you.”
The stepmom got angry at me and said, “Well, with all due respect to you, you haven’t been here for the past eleven years.”
I responded, “You’re right. I haven’t. But, you need to understand that constantly telling her how bad she is isn’t helping her heal.”
When her parents left, my friend said, “That is the first time that anyone stood up to my stepmom.”
I pack up to go home because my friend’s husband is there. I feel that she is stable enough now. Her husband made the comment, “Well, I would have come earlier, but I had a half talk of gas and no money.”
I looked him and smiled with my sweetest Southern smile and said, “I had only the change in my pocket, a quarter tank of gas, cancelled my tutoring job that I was doing, cancelled my other two tutoring jobs and packed up to stay the night with *****.”
He looked at me, laughed and said, “What is wrong with you?”
I said, “Nothing is wrong with me. My priority is taking care of those I love, and I love ******.”
I was hurt for my friend. It is hard enough battling mental health demons, but when you are alone with no emotional support from your family, it is almost insurmountable.
Once I got to my car, I video chatted with one of my friends, and I finally cried. I let it all out. I cried body rocking sobs for my friend, the pain that she is shouldering on her own, the fear of the unknown that she is facing, and the aching of wanting to heal. I sobbed in anger against mental health stigma, the blame people put on those with mental illness, and the broken system that is failing so many. No one should be blamed for his or her mental illness. It would be akin to being blamed for having cancer, diabetes, or asthma.
I received a text from my friend’s husband. It read: “Thanks for being such a good friend to ******. I don’t think I have ever witnessed such devotion from a friend of hers. I will try to keep you in the loop as much as possible ok” I responded, “Thanks for keeping me in the loop. I appreciate that. We all need to rally around ***** and help her to recovery and wellness.”
This is my prayer. I pray that we work on our recovery and wellness, be our best advocate, and remember to put on our oxygen masks first.