The following is an excerpt from an article I wrote in January 2015 about my postpartum journey.
There are so many layers to my story, I am not sure where to begin.
Motherhood has been fickle for me; consistently inconsistent, if you will. Some days, I’m on top of my game, juggling diapers and Legos and laundry and schedules and child-sized meltdowns without missing a beat. My friends and family often tell me I am an amazing mom and on these good days, I think they’re telling the truth. I feel it and I almost believe it. Almost. At least until the stress of being Mom inevitably gets to me once again. On those days, the ones I struggle to get through, I am convinced that I am doing it all wrong and that my children would be much better off with some “Other Mother”: one who doesn’t lose her temper, yell too much or randomly break down crying in front of them. A mom who enjoys getting on the floor and playing with her babies, taking her children on adventures through the neighborhood and crooning off-pitch Disney tunes into a make-believe microphone with her budding rock stars. The mom that I always envisioned I would be when I was given my chance.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer to this has not changed since I was a girl. All my life, all I ever wanted – all that I dreamed of – was to be a wife and a mother and to raise a family of my own. A family, I vowed, which would be devoid of the trauma and abuse that I endured as a child. When I married my 7th grade sweetheart in 2010 and we were blessed to immediately begin our family, I knew I was living the happily-ever-after to my Cinderella story. What I didn’t realize is that motherhood is not the light at the end of the tunnel I imagined it to be. In fact, it’s a journey of its own, chock full of blind turns, roadblocks and dark tunnels. This they didn’t cover in my Lamaze classes or at my prenatal visits or even in the dozens of Preparing for Baby books I read. This I had to learn on my own, through a long, arduous struggle that is My PPD Story.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my struggle began before my first child was even born. In January of 2009 I began actively seeking professional treatment for some issues I had been battling for years: extreme mood swings ranking at the top of my list. I began to run the gamut of our country’s current mental health system, a course on which I would spend the next 5 years.
It started with a (mis)diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. I was treated with strong psychiatric drugs; medication that intoxicated and sickened me, yet did nothing for my symptoms of depression and anger. Following a particularly intense meltdown in February of 2010, I voluntarily admitted to an intensive outpatient program at my local hospital. I spent 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 3 ½ weeks attending group and individual therapy sessions. I saw psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians, nurses and professional counselors. I told the story of my background so often that I had it down to a concise monologue, highlighting precisely what I knew the doctors wanted to know, complete with a chronological print-out detailing my mental health journey.
Through all of this, I never felt like more than a number in a system, a case from a textbook. Don’t get me wrong, people were nice and most had good intentions. However, the Psychology major in me felt like the majority of the time my symptoms were just being run through a list in the DSM-IV, paired with the closest resembling diagnosis (in the opinion of my provider anyway), and assigned a treatment, by the book.
No one asked about me; the real me. None of these trained professionals saw the forest through the trees of my emotional wounds, past my masks of self-preservation. No one took the time to genuinely connect with me, understand me as a whole person, get to know what makes me tick. If they had, they would have made the connection between how I was raised and how I was raising my family. They would have realized that I’m a perfectly normal human being, one reacting to life the only way I ever knew. They would have told me that it was okay, that every new wife and mom has similar fears, that what I needed was support. Instead, they saw my diagnosis.
I was a defective product on an assembly line and their job was to fix the defect with whatever medicinal concoction fit the bill, which of course I had to pay somehow – though being a single, white female with a full-time job (or 3) and no kids disqualified me from any type of government assistance.
Still, I rode the waves of the mental health world, allowing several weeks for each of the meds to “kick in” and telling my story, my symptoms repeatedly as I struggled to find the right therapist. Upping my meds when it was clear they weren’t helping; changing them because they still weren’t; adding a supplement pill as advised by the latest psychiatrist…. Still, the crippling ache remained inside. My soul still sank down into the darkness and tears still flooded down my face. My blood still boiled as the raging fire inside me ripped through my body, eventually spilling out into my world and burning those I loved the most. The One I loved the most. The One who, throughout all this craziness, still loved me and wanted me and made me his wife and the soon-to-be mother of his children.
. . . to be continued . . .