America’s peace and tranquility were cracked again last week. It’s supposed to be a time to get rid of the old and bring in new. Isn’t that what a new year is about?
What makes this one worse for me is the video.* The news cycle plays it endlessly, but I can’t watch. How do you explain mental illness? What do you do? I cannot explain what drives someone to create such havoc. I suppose some want to feel the power. Some are avenging what they feel to be a slight against themselves, their family, their belief, their way of life. What I want to know is what would you do? If you see someone struggling, what is your reaction? What if it’s your struggle?
I have been on both sides of this coin and don’t have an answer, or at least one that works outside of myself.
My most recent brushes were due to the birth of my children. Now, if you just scoffed that my post-partum issues are nothing, that they go away, that they are ‘lady troubles’ then you haven’t paid attention to the women whose struggles have driven them to the extreme. You probably cannot fathom claws of despair ripping through your being.
‘Baby blues’ is an innocuous, light, fluffy way to describe the problem. But on the opposite end, labeling someone with post-partum depression is almost a sentence of guilt without a crime. A ‘damaged’ label against a mother.
The truth is I’m somewhere in the middle.
When my first born was three weeks old, I stopped eating one night, dropped a fork full of food, left the table, and went to my bedroom. I covered my face with a pillow and sobbed the tears that leave you gasping for air. I believed at that moment I had ruined my life. I ruined my husband’s life. I ruined the life of this baby and we would never survive.
With my second baby, the blues started before she was born. I had panic attacks while pregnant that I would fail; and again, that I was ruining the life of my first one. When the second one was a month or so old, the first child refused to nap. He was kicking and screaming, turning red in face with buckets of tears and couldn’t be consoled. I sat in the chair and bear hugged him and I let loose too. It was those same tears that left me gasping. I couldn’t stop apologizing to him for changing his life. I just mumbled ‘I’m sorry’ over and over. I cried so much that he stopped crying and tried to comfort me. A 2-year old. I’m not sure, but I think I terrified my husband in that moment too.
My sister pointed out that my fear was over a pivot in my “normal”. I was terrified with the first one I ruined my normal; and I was terrified (again) with the second one that I ruined my new normal. I still carry some of that terror, but I’m readjusting my normal.
On the flip side, I’ve been present for meltdowns in other people. Their panic, their despair, them questioning their existences and purpose. I felt helpless. I can hold their hand. I can tell them they are loved, they are needed, they are strong, but I can’t make it better. Coming down off an attack is like walking on ice: you’ve got your arms out for balance and you’re trying like hell to not fall, but it’s impossible to see all the danger, all the triggers for a collapse. Helping someone come down is paved with excellent intentions, but sometimes seems like it makes it worse. It’s like telling someone to stop, drop, and roll. Excellent advice, but it still burns.
While I am (probably) done having children and may not face the talons of post-partum depression again, I know that I don’t have a pass on the possibility of illness. Soldiers will continue to suffer trying to rejoin a non-military society; mothers will continue to struggle with their new life after childbirth; men and women will continue to tussle with love, family, work, religion, and life.
So what do you do when confronted with a fall?
You’re supposed to ask for help. I spoke with my health care circle during an episode and honestly I felt ridiculous. It’s not that they didn’t care, I didn’t like appearing weak. My sister came to my rescue. She didn’t wait for me to ask for help, she just intruded. She told me her experiences and it opened up the spectrum so I knew I wasn’t the only one who experienced such defeat.
I dislike ‘starting a conversation’ on a topic because it sounds so trite. I don’t want to talk about it – I don’t want to share face to face. But I decided I can share when no one’s looking. I don’t check the comments or the hits on this thing. I just type. I can Google the mess out of a topic searching for perspective. I can look to the new year to refresh things.
So if it’s you: Breathe. Nap. Cry. Breathe some more. It sounds simple, but taking a clean breath is sometimes very hard and time consuming.
If you are a witness: hold their hand, tell them you will be there other side waiting; if they walk away, shout at their retreating figure. There will be tears and anger and despair. The fall down is easy, the climb up is hard.
If you, or someone you know, is suffering from postpartum depression, contact Postpartum Support International (PSI) at 1.800.944.4773 or visit their website to learn more about this disease and what resources are available to help: http://www.postpartum.net/