I’ve spent a lot of time going back and forth about writing a small part of my story, but here it goes. This the abridged version of my story.
July 28th, 2016. A date that will live in infamy. July 28th is the day that I wanted to die so bad that I almost did. Two years ago seems like a lifetime ago, but I can remember often like it was last week. It was the day I had a plan and intended to execute that plan to leave this earth forever, and the day I also decided to stay.
I struggled with prenatal depression since the first day I found out I was pregnant. I have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was fifteen years old, and I’ve never handled unexpected life transitions as well as I’d like to. My last trimester was high risk with me on bedrest and having a long birth that consisted of me laying on my left side for more than 20 hours. I had a very difficult birth, ended up with fever and infection, giving my daughter a fever when I gave birth. I felt guilty and was vulnerable, and my first days postpartum were nothing short of overwhelming. My milk came in and I had trouble breastfeeding. I needed help and even though I was a therapist myself, I had no idea how vulnerable I was and what I needed to do to get the help I needed.
My first month was inundated with psychosis and depression. My eyes played tricks on me, and I had scary thoughts about hurting myself and my baby. I would call and text my husband hourly while I was on leave, begging him to come home and begging to have some interaction. I wanted people to care about me, talk to me, but I had a cute, tiny newborn and everyone wanted to see her. My saving grace was my friend Katy. She cared about me and never once asked to come see my daughter. She checked on me, told me it was okay to stand on the porch for a few minutes while I gained my sanity or just cried, and she let me call as many times as I needed. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have made it as long as I did.
The time came for me to go back to work. I needed people and I needed to be productive outside of motherhood. I admire women who stay at home because they are so strong and so resilient to take care of their children and their home all day. However, I know it’s not my journey. When I went to work, it was good and bad. I immediately started stressing about work life balance. My milk supply became low. After all the teas and all the natural ways to increase my milk, it was only just enough to have milk for the work day so I could immediately rush home and nurse. It was difficult, and I was full of guilt and shame not thinking I was enough as a mom and wife and counselor and woman. I felt alone because I hadn’t seen any other mom struggle the way I was struggling.
Breastfeeding was a real issue for me. I ended up supplementing with formula and felt the shame of not giving my baby the liquid gold moms and birth workers talk about. I didn’t realize it was okay to feed my baby in the best way she needed. But a family member shamed me, and I was determined not to let her win. So I kept going. I had thrush three times, and I cried every time I didn’t pump enough for a feeding. I would get texts about blow out diapers and my diet making my milk too thin, all things are not true, but I didn’t know. I was vulnerable and weak and didn’t know because I was afraid to look at research telling me I was doing it wrong. I was afraid to join the facebook groups that would tell me I was a bad mom. They didn’t really say that, but that’s what I thought they’d say. I was more alone than ever, and I was convinced I just had to be okay.
Months went on. The school year ended and I was alone with my baby all day every day. I was so isolated because all my friends were on trips or had work or were busy. I went to Florida to see Katy, but three days didn’t save my summer. I was miserable and sad and didn’t know how to get the help I needed even though I was a counselor. I keep saying that because every step of the way that was the truth. I couldn’t be my own therapist, but I was scared what another therapist would say. Was this normal? Is it always this bad? Am I doing it wrong? I only saw happy moms, so what was wrong with me?
At the end of June, Livi started soft foods. That was another issue. All my friends pureed their foods, but I was too depressed to get out of bed and go to the store let alone fix her organic, healthier food. But at the time, I thought I was just a lazy mom. I didn’t know that it wasn’t lazy to wish your baby would sleep most of the day, and it wasn’t lazy to want to go nowhere and see no one. I was suffering at this point, and even though I had a supportive spouse and a really good friend who heard me, I isolated and retreated into myself.
When Livi started eating food, she realized she loved food. I mean really loved it. But for her, that meant she was done with nursing. It felt like all of sudden she was rejecting my breast which I thought meant she was rejecting me. I felt so ashamed I couldn’t exclusively breastfeed in the first place, and now my daughter was confirming my belief that I was not good enough. I hated myself and my life and I wanted to die.
Livi fully weaned on July 15. It was exactly seven months of breastfeeding so I could prove to that family member and others that I had done it. I wanted to be successful at something even if it cost me tears and part of my emotional well-being. The next two weeks that followed are still to this day a blur. I wanted to die daily. I had depression meds, but my meds couldn’t keep up with the hormone drop from weaning and it impacted me in a dangerous way. I spent two weeks wanting to die until I decided I was going to actually die. So I made a plan.
I will never write what my plan was. First of all, it was too well thought out and is too painful to write down. It’s hard enough thinking of what the impact of suicide on my family would have been, but it’s devastating that I thought it out and was actually going to go through with it. Second, I think sharing my suicide plan can be triggering and also be toxic for those still suffering with untreated postpartum depression. I will say this, I know what it’s like to really want to die. I know what it’s like to be in a place so dark that you’re convinced the world will continue without you and be unphased or even better off. That’s not true. You matter. Right now you may be in a toxic environment or less than ideal circumstances, but YOU MATTER. And I MATTER.
July 28th I planned out how I was going to die. It was so real it was terrifying. The truth is, deep down I didn’t want to die but I didn’t know how to live. I was convinced that all the lies that depression told me were more than true. So I waited for the right time. And I thought of my girl and flashed back to our eight months together so those would be my final thoughts. I thought of how amazing her dad is and that she would be in such good hands for the rest of her life. I thought of my husband and him finding love again and my family not having to worry about my “drama”, which is really mental illness. But fear flooded me. I hate pain and I was terrified to die. So I begged God to make me go to sleep like I had so many nights before in order to get these suicidal thoughts out of my head. I begged and cried and cried and begged. And I went to sleep. It sounds simple but it was hours of going back and forth between dying and begging to go to sleep. But I went to sleep and it saved my life.
The next day was a Friday. I woke up and even though I still wanted to die, the reality of what I was going to do the night before hit me hard and I was ready to get help. I sat my husband down and told him what was going on with me. He knew I was hurting but didn’t know the silent suffering I had endured alone for months. I told him my plan and he was devastated. It’s hard telling anyone the person you love and that loves you the most that you hurt so much you wanted to leave them. I handed him a folder as an in case of emergency if it were to happen again, and I established a system for emotionally checking in with him daily so I wouldn’t be alone in my feelings. I went back to my therapist who I saw for regular life maintenance but stopped before I got pregnant. I sought out people. I went back to work. I got rid of toxic friends who refused to put themselves aside for a hot second so I could feel their love and support. After I wanted to die, I was ready to fight. And I was ready to not fight alone.
I didn’t tell anyone for a long time, and there are times I still struggle to verbalize the darkest parts of my postpartum depression. It took months to go from dangerous to bad, bad to okay, and okay to good. It’s been two years and I still cry when I think of July 28th. Healing has no timeline, but it is one day and one step at a time and it takes a village.
It took me a week to sit down and write this. But I know this is not just my story. It is the story of 1 in 5 women. Perinatal mental illness is real and can be a killer. Whether it’s a killer of joy or killer of actual life, without help, it can be the worst hell to live in. After my story, I knew I wanted to help others. After I sought help, I realized I wasn’t the only mom out their suffering alone. I want to walk alongside other women who feel like they have to be okay even though they aren’t okay. I just happen to be a therapist who, when I decided not to die, knew what my resources were. But I know so many women don’t know where to go for help. There are so many women who don’t know there is help.
I’m not perfect, and I suck at self care often but I lived. And I’m grateful I did. I tell my story to say that you can live too. There is help and hope, and you are not alone. Someone loves you and needs you to stay. Your reason for staying might not be for you in the beginning but a life of love and joy and happiness can happen again, and then you’ll want to stay for you. But for today, just find one reason, whatever the reason to stay. And tomorrow let’s fight, and we’ll fight together.
YOU MATTER. EVERY DAY. ALL THE TIME.
If you are feeling suicidal and this is an emergency, please dial 911. If you would like other resources or information on perinatal mental illness go to www.postpartum.net. If you need help and support, you can call Push Counseling at 214.596.8318 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.