This post is 5th in a series on depression.
Tsh is founder of The Art of Simple, originally from Austin, Texas, she’s a mom to three kids, wife to a bearded Oregonian named Kyle, and a lover of black coffee and gorgeous typography. She’s also written three books, and hosts a podcast called The Art of Simple Podcast. She thinks a library card, a Netflix subscription, and a passport are some of the greatest parenting tools in the universe, and that a good beverage will get you through the end of any hard day.
I remember how vividly upside-down my world turned when I first became a mom. It felt like my life changed overnight—I distinctly remember thinking, “Welp, I guess my life is over” during those early weeks of nonstop feedings, diaper changes, and paranoia about every little sniffle and snort from the crib.
I eventually grew to love that little kid, but it wasn’t overnight. I wasn’t one of those ohmygoodnessIlovethissomuch sorts of mamas. And I didn’t even know I was dealing with postpartum depression until two years later.
Fast-forward twenty-six months, and we’re in our living room in Turkey, our new home of six weeks. This was something we had been working toward for years, living abroad as a family, and our time had finally arrived. I had dreamed of doing this since I was 18—my husband and I even met working overseas in the former Yugoslavia, in fact.
And the moment came when I admitted that I didn’t actually want to do this.
I remember feeling nonstop lethargy, an inability to think clearly, a heavy malaise of nothingness. There was one afternoon when I felt like I literally (and I use that word literally) couldn’t get out of my chair—it felt like I was glued to the seat cushion and my body forgot how to stand up. I couldn’t read, couldn’t smile, couldn’t look someone in the eye more than a few seconds. I certainly couldn’t hold a conversation. All I could do was stare at the wall and… just stare. I wasn’t even really thinking.
One night through mustered-up tears, I told my husband Kyle that I regretted our move to Turkey, and admittedly sensed a still, small voice telling us during the months leading up to our big transition that it wasn’t the best idea. But I thought I just didn’t have enough trust in God, so I choked up my doubts and swallowed them.
And now, here I was, miserable. Actually, I wasn’t miserable. I felt nothing.
We talked to our bosses (and when I say “we,” I mean Kyle—I sat there and pseudo-listened), a lovely older couple who’d lived overseas for years, and they agreed with our assessment that I might have some sort of depression (we self-diagnosed myself, thanks to the good people at Google). Serendipidously, we had a work conference in another county in just a few weeks, and there would be a psychologist there we could talk to.
I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that in my meeting with this doctor, he used a checklist of eight symptoms to determine if someone has depression, and that if someone showed five of the eight signs, he diagnoses them as depressed. He said I had all eight signs, and severely.
This story is a long one, one that involves us going to Thailand for two months to meet intensively with a therapist, to get on meds (Zoloft) and give them time to see if they’d work, and to spend a lot of time in prayer over whether our family should return to our new life in Turkey.
We ultimately returned to Turkey, armed with acknowledgement that not only was I dealing with depression, but that I had most likely had it since I birthed our daughter over two years prior. I had mistakenly assumed my sense of dread, lethargy, unhappiness, and general malaise were typical early mama drudgeries.
And they are, in small ways. But not in the huge, nonstop ways I dealt with.
In those early months, I had simply rolled up my sleeves and assumed this was my life now. Looking back, I can see how much postpartum depression veiled my eyes to what I could have had but assumed wasn’t mine for the taking—better health, a reasonable disposition, a realistic outlook on life. It’s obvious to me now, having since birthed two other babies without the aftermath of PPD. But I just didn’t know back then.
Meds and therapy eventually helped me enormously (I stayed on both throughout my years living in Turkey). I also started a blog as part of my therapy, which was a significant part of my healing. And today, I continually carry with me the knowledge that I have a high chance of returning to depression. But at least now I know what to look for; I know how it looks in my life.
I’m better now, at least for the moment. I’m not on meds and I don’t regularly see a therapist—I’m almost always routinely happy now. I know that regular sunshine and exercise help tremendously. I know to find regular grownup time with girlfriends and to eat well. I know that when I’m feeling blue for more than an afternoon, I need to seek out some of these everyday therapies. These things combat my depression tendencies.
And since I’ve lived through it, I know how real it is, and my heart goes out to all mamas dealing with PPD. To you, please don’t brush away any feelings of “the blues” and assume it’s no big deal. It might not be. But you may not be able to clearly see the cloud hanging over you, and there are helps that’ll make those baby-rearing years a lot more pleasant.
Depression stinks. But it doesn’t have to be forever, and it doesn’t have to eat you whole. I know it’s hard to believe in the thick of it, but you will get out on the other side, if you get help, and there are better days ahead.
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If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, please check out Postpartum Progress.
PP is the beneficiary of our fundraising efforts this series, and my hope is that we can serve those who serve in a tangible way these two weeks.
Please consider donating even a few dollars to the beautiful and hard work being done at Postpartum Progress.
It’s easy. Quick. And Good.