For me, postpartum depression hit particularly hard after my second child. Knowing it would eventually go away gave our family hope throughout the 11 months that it lasted. I assumed once it went away things would go back to normal. What I wasn’t prepared for was the aftermath it left behind.
When my second baby was two months old, I was convinced that the baby had eaten my brains and turned me into an anxious, raging, indecisive bitch. Although I knew about postpartum depression, I didn’t think I had it because I wasn’t sad, but rather anxious and angry. I remember waking up and dreading my time with my kids, not because I didn’t love them, but because it felt so incredibly overwhelming. I had a hard time figuring out the most basic parts of parenting without feeling like I was making monumental decisions in complete isolation. The anxiety around mothering became so tedious that the days dragged on and I felt so unengaged and quick to get annoyed. Thankfully, a friend of mine, who happened to be a doula, informed me that anxiety and depression are two sides of the same coin and that it sounded like I had postpartum depression.
After the official diagnosis from a doctor, I was relieved to know that the baby had not, in fact, eaten my brain, but that I had something that would eventually heal itself. What saved my family is that I became very transparent about what was going on and it meant I didn’t have to pretend around my friends and family. Also, they gave me a pass everytime I raged or acted completely out of line. When people ask me to describe mental illness, I say it’s like having a guest in your house who you vulnerably and blindly trust. You allow them to use everything inside your home and speak to you in whatever tone they want. Unfortunately, this guest is disrespectful, abusive and messy. They may treat others like crap, but the person they abuse the most is you. Depressions acts like a fog and while during this time it’s important to be gentle to oneself, we tend to do quite the opposite. In a society where mothering is done in isolation and the most connection we get is from picture-perfect social media posts, we begin to own the actions of our unwanted guest. So every time the guest makes a mess or acts out of line, instead of saying; “Remember you have an intruder in your home. Stay calm. Love yourself. Breathe.” you say; “What’s wrong with you? You’re a bad mom! There you go again crying. You are so disorganized. Other moms are so much better!” And after the guest leaves, things do get better, but I can’t exactly promise you will, unless you take a few steps to consciously clean your mental home and all the shit they left behind.
After my postpartum depression went away, I began looking for jobs and getting back in the swing of adulting. I’ve always considered myself a smart, competent person with a great sense of humor. I’m fucking vegan and my career is focused around making the world a better place. I mean, come on, isn’t that Pinterest worthy? So when it came time for me to start putting myself out there, I noticed this choking insecurity that kept me from breathing easily every time I sent a resume or pitched myself. What was going on? My spirits were high, I was mothering like a ninja, I started going back to the gym and eating right. I had apologized to my friends and family for things like, “Sorry I broke the remote control when I couldn’t figure out how to watch that one thing I recorded that I couldn’t remember what it was called.” So while my relationships healed and my body slowly recovered (yes, slowly) I found that I was still feeling broken.
I asked for my husband to give me a day to myself, for me to take stock and really see what was happening and what I needed to do to feel better. That’s when I realized I had gone to great lengths to fix all the shit this guest had tried to mess up, except for the one thing that is most important, my inner self. Almost six months after my postpartum depression went away, my negative self talk lingered in my mind every time I had to make a career move or make a bold decision. I had not addressed the fact that I called myself unattractive and unpleasant to be around for almost a year, leaving me feeling unworthy of friendships and sometimes romance. So, for the past 11 months I mentally belittled myself so much that in the twelfth month, the guest had left, but some of their lies had become truths. I’m writing this today because, had it not been for this realization, I could carry these new beliefs as truths for years to come.
Just like we create crappy habits when we aren’t in the best state of mind, we also create really crappy thought patterns. Limiting beliefs do not go away on their own; we need to consciously uproot them. Think about how many decades you carried around the belief a parent or a teacher gave you when you were a child? The scariest part was, since I did not have my depression to blame, I was really close to believing that this simply was who I was. A “less than” version of my old self. That’s when I started an intense campaign to find ways to replace those negative thoughts with positive affirmations of my strengths and abilities.
We all know that depression can lead to a cluster of negative thoughts in our heads, encouraging behaviors that prevent us from being happy and secure within ourselves, but are we aware that after the fog lifts, depending on how long we experienced our mental illness, we have to un-tell ourselves all the lies we told ourselves, and break the negative patterns we created in our day to day lives? I realize today that if I did not become conscious of the lies I had once told myself, they were going to become truths. But slowly, as I dive into the world of self-help and spiritual awakening (and that’s another story), I can begin to address all the crap that unwanted guest left in my home while I blindly trusted them. The process is creating a stronger more compassionate version of my old self, because not only am I coming out of the fog, I am rising above it.