I hope you will read this post as if we are having a frank, but heartfelt conversation. I have spent months wrestling with how to write this. I have difficulty doing many things since Blake arrived. The first 6 weeks were really hard. Aren't they always!? Then we learned our wailing, grumpy baby had acid reflux. We got him on some medicine. Things got a lot better. Everything was starting to feel brighter, except for me. Life was in fact, getting harder.
I did not enjoy life as a mom. There, I said it.
I did not recognize that sentiment for what it was until I lay in my living room with my three month old, sobbing in the fetal position and praying my life could end. Not only was I suffering in silence, but I assumed being a new mom was supposed to be this hard; I just wasn't handling the adjustment well. That's what I thought.
I have postpartum depression. For each woman, this disease may take on a different face or manifest in varying ways. Many women I know have not had severe symptoms as I am about to describe, while others experienced much worse. My Postpartum Depression (PPD) symptoms have included anxiety, rage, restlessness, inability to concentrate, apathy, dizziness, insomnia, depression, suicidal thoughts and feeling overwhelmed, irrational, worthless, "out of control" and resentment towards Blake, Trent and God. I have felt on edge for so many days in the past 9 months, feeling despair, and mourning my former life as a normal, happy person. I have spent hours on my knees crying, begging, pleading to have the strength to make it through another hour with Blake because my sanity was hanging by a thread. There were days when I wished I could leave this earth. There were days when I longed for the freedom to make that choice. They are feelings that are so heavy, dark and real. The scariest part is that those feelings did not always terrify me. They were a welcome relief and escape. They would haunt my mind and linger until a priesthood blessing could finally free me of the cankering weight that day. I have felt trapped in my own crazy pseudo-reality.
In a word, I have been living in my own private hell. The mind is a wonderful, glorious thing. When physical chemistry is off and the body is sick, this affects the mind in ways I had never before imagined. I would never wish this illness on anyone. I have been unmotivated, stagnant, and almost childlike on some of my worst days. I needed to have someone there to hold my hand and walk me through the motions so that I could make it. I have been so grateful to those along the way who recognized my suffering and loved me all the more. I have never accepted so much help, from perfect strangers even, in my entire life.
You're reading this and thinking, "Now, wait a minute! I've seen Ashley. She gave me a big hug and a smile and we had normal conversation. She cannot be serious!" I am fabulous at putting on a happy face. Plenty of people are, actually. [I served as a full-time missionary, where I perfected that unhealthy adult trait.] Many days I need to put that happy face on to get a semblance of normalcy and control and cheer. It's draining, but I can do it. So if you've seen me any time in the past 9 months, please don't think of me as disingenuous. I have been struggling to reconcile my craziness with the real world around me. This is not uncommon; It's uncomfortable in our society to discuss and share our personal experience with mental illness. You don't want to be labeled a "psychotic", "crazy", "unstable" person. You may as well be a social outcast! And yet, here I am.
I have had dozens of people comment on what great joy I must be feeling as a new mom. "Sure, it's hard, but it's all worth it", they say. Well, to be honest, I'm not there yet. I have not and do not yet enjoy it. I do not celebrate my new motherhood. To be perfectly honest, I feel guilty because we do not have any pictures of Blake in our house. Not one. Until I can stand on my own two feet (so to speak) and have restored mental health, I am quite incapable of fully embracing this new life. And it's unfortunate because it has affected my relationship with Trent and with Blake. I love them DEARLY. SO MUCH!! However, I struggle daily to bond with both of them in a healthy, appreciative, loving, enriching way. I don't say this to be dramatic or for pity. I am being frank because my story needs to be told. I feel the need to share with you how real this disease is.
Upon hearing of my struggle with PPD, one relative said:
"You need to spend more time around other people and get out of the house." So this disease is my fault... I'm just not taking care of myself? Brilliant...
I have had friends tell me that they, too, suffered from PPD:
"Yeah, I had that for about three weeks...and then it went away. It's manageable." As if I one simply waits PPD out and in a few months feel like a new person again. [By the way, what this friend described is likely "baby blues", not PPD, although baby blues are truly awful and jarring to a new mom. PPD is akin to having a broken leg or any other physical malady; it requires rigorous treatment to properly contain and eradicate it.]
But this response from a close friend scared me:
"I did not realize until well after my second baby that I had experienced postpartum depression since my first child. Anytime I was left with both kids alone, my heart would race and I would have panic attacks and symptoms of depression. I felt that I had no control over my life. I couldn't change it because I was a mom dealing with the growing pains of having two little kids. I just dealt with it." My friend, like so many other women, suffered in silence because she did not know she had the right to have help! There is no shame in asking for help with anything you feel is bigger than you are. Period.
I have been to counseling for the past few months and will continue for some time. I have had multiple blood tests to determine which course of action would be the best with my bodies' chemistry. I have been on a strict diet to maintain the best chance possible for having a healthy body to work effectively through this labyrinth of raging hormones, chemical imbalances, and new-mom fatigue. I am doing everything I possibly can within my power. Physically, spiritually, mentally. I am still looking for answers and still hoping and working towards being "myself".
I am open to questions. I am open to hearing your words of encouragement and support. I am open to your concerns. I would love to hear your personal experiences. I know that in keeping this quiet for so long, I have only perpetuated the problem we see with this and many other mental diseases: that it's largely misunderstood and socially "taboo" to discuss. But please know this has been an incredibly raw, painful and seemingly endless journey. I have not conquered it yet. We have not conquered it, yet. :) I have great medical professionals cheering me on, a network of family and friends, a tender, loving husband and a beautiful little boy who gives me daily glimpses of the pure, unselfish love that exists in this world. I am getting better and slowly seeing improvement. The days are getting lighter and the future less bleak.
I know that I can and will be Ashley again. I can enjoy my new life. I can be whole. I hope you will take this experience and look to the women in your life. Offer support. Tell them how real motherhood is, not just the joyful, fun moments. Tell them of your own struggles. Share with them about postpartum depression. Not to scare them, but to let them know who they can trust if they are unfortunate to experience such a thing. No one should suffer in silence because they are afraid and feel misunderstood or ashamed. We need more love, more acceptance and more understanding for these diseases. We need to hear these stories so we can better love those around us.
Some of my favorite resources:
5 Damaging Myths About Postpartum Depression
Postpartum Support International
Like A Broken Vessel, lds.org
In Search Of Understanding, lds.org
Myths about Mental Illness, lds.org