What you need to know about depression (and how I responded when I got a text saying, “I’m Kinda Losing it Today”)
Do you ever have those mornings where – for no explicable reason – you wake up at some ungodly hour, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t get back to sleep?
That was me yesterday at 4am. After mediating a fight between the voices in my head (one said, “Get up! You have to pee!” While the other one said, “No you don’t! Just shut up and go back to sleep!), and then tossing and turning until eventually deciding that there was no possible comfortable position (seriously, woman, get a new pillow), I lost the battle. At 6am, I finally went to the bathroom (yeah, I held it in for two hours), and gave up the fight with my deplorable pillow. A true product of these modern times, I propped up said pillow against the headboard, turned on my phone, and aimlessly scrolled through my Facebook feed. In my defense, I was too tired to start working, but obviously too wired to sleep. So…yeah. Facebook.
I came across a post from my high school friend about mental health, specifically in regards to new mamas. This particular story was about a mother who tried for two months to breastfeed, but was having so much trouble with it that both she and her son cried almost all day and night. She and her husband were sleep deprived (to say the least), and after a lactation consultant came over and witnessed the mama exhibiting signs of depression, she gently advised the mother to stop breastfeeding. She assured the obviously distraught mother that despite her beliefs to the contrary, she should feel no shame in giving it up. What a child needs before anything else is a loving mother. Breastmilk or not, a baby will thrive with love. Not breastfeeding your child does not make you a bad mother.
The mother collapsed into tears, relieved that the consultant had given her the permission she had unknowingly been longing for to stop breastfeeding. She needed to hear it from someone else so she could stop judging herself for thinking it.
I followed the rabbit hole of that post to another one about a mother who admitted that when out in public, if she saw another mother struggling with her kid(s), she wouldn’t offer to help because her own problems were already too much for her to handle. But when she found herself on the flip side of it one day, and another mother came to her rescue, it made her realize how important it was to reach out to help someone in need.
Later that day, she saw a mother walking in the park with her two children, slumped over and looking anything but happy. She struck up a conversation with her, and what ensued was a heartfelt discussion about how hard it can be to be a mom (and more importantly, that you’re allowed to feel that way). They laughed and shared their war stories, and both of them left the conversation feeling better, comrades in battle, united together and feeling stronger – albeit lighter – because of it.
This article led me to yet another one about a mother in Vancouver who had taken her life just two months after her baby was born. Her husband wrote a social media post soon after urging mothers to seek help if they were feeling depressed, assuring them that if they were having trouble breastfeeding (or trouble of any kind, for that matter), it didn’t make them a bad mother! Babies need love. Everything else is secondary, and your own mental health is of the utmost importance in being able to carry out your role as a mom.
Curled up in my bed, I felt the sting of tears in my eyes as I read these stories. Not because I had postpartum depression, but because I too had a hard time in the first few months of Madison’s life. It wasn’t clinical depression, but it was tough. I didn’t know what was going on. I wasn’t prepared for how quickly my life had changed, and frankly, I resented it. I had no idea what I was doing, and was distressed to find that my maternal instincts didn’t kick in the way I had always dreamed they would. When I was a toddler, playing with my dolls was my favorite way to spend my time. I desperately wished that time would speed up so I could become a mother (it’s honestly all I ever wanted). But when my daughter was born, my childhood wishes weren’t lining up with reality. This wasn’t play. I couldn’t put my doll back in the toy box and wash my hands for dinner, leaving my baby there until I was ready to play again the following day. This baby needed me. All. Of. The. Time. And I needed help. I needed support. I needed to talk to other mothers about what this felt like. I needed other mamas to tell me that they were feeling this way too, and that it was ok. It didn’t make me a bad mother. It just made me human.
Heavy with thoughts about these articles, I peeled myself out of bed, snuggled with and fed Madison, and then went about our morning. After I put Madison down for her first nap, I came downstairs to a message on my phone.
It was from a number I didn’t recognize. The woman identified herself as someone I had met together with our babes. She said that she was “kinda losing it” today,” and asked if I was around.
“I’m totally with you, mama! Why don’t you and your babe come over when Madison is up from her nap!” I wrote back without even skipping a beat, desperate to make sure she knew she was not alone, and that I was there with her.
“That would be great!” she said, following it up with a, “So sorry to bother you.”
I replied immediately, “No apologies! This motherhood thing is hard! We have to stick together!”
She replied with a laughing smiley face, and told me she would see me in a few hours.
Had I not read those articles this morning, I’m sure I would have done the same thing (it’s kind of in my nature to be kind. I blame my parents). But had I not read them, because I had so much work to do while Madison napped, I might have waited a few hours to respond, rather than responding right away.
When was the last time you reached out to someone who needed help?
It’s not just postpartum depression that we should be aware of. It’s depression in general.
I’ve also noticed a lot of people post one particular script about depression on Facebook these days (it begins, “How often do you sit at home and wish someone would ring you and suggest, well anything rather than these 4 walls?” and goes on to describe how depression plays out in people’s lives). When I see these posts on my friend’s pages, I don’t copy and share them. I don’t “like” them. I pick up my phone and text or call my friend to check in to see how they are doing, and I ask them what I can do to support them.
I recently did that with a friend I haven’t seen in a while, and she said that just texting to ask made her feel better. She was struggling, and she needed some support. Support I shall give her, now and forever. Because we all need support throughout our lives. Sometimes more than others. And that is perfectly ok! Who said we had to do this alone? Who said that being a hero means going it alone and forging through, even when we feel like dying inside?
Certainly not me.
None of us know the extent to which our friends and loved ones are suffering, but no matter the degree, it should not be treated lightly. Unfortunately for one of my dear friends, the pain was more than she could take. Gone too soon, she leaves behind a sea of friends and family whose hearts are filled with memories of her smiling face and giving soul, myself included. My only comfort is the hope that she has finally found peace, though I wish she could have found it here among us in the living.
So if you’re reading this post and you’re feeling down, reach out to me. I’m here for you. Reach out to your friends and family too. Let them know you’re struggling and that you need them. They are there for you too. And what’s more is that your honesty and vulnerability might help them reach out for help when they need it too. That is such a gift.
And if you’re not feeling blue, you have homework too: check in with your friends and loved ones today, especially the new mamas, and anyone you know who suffers from depression or is going through a tough time. Ask them how they are doing. Stay in touch with them. Send them flowers, a note, a card, or something you know they’ll appreciate. Spend time with them. You might not think that does much, but trust me, to them, it makes all the difference.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a mama to tend to
In loving memory of Anna Elizabeth Grace Van Zee Redgate; May 23, 1968- April 15, 2017