Last week, I made a serious confession—I have post-partum depression, and have been living with it for a while, now.
It was difficult to write, and took me days to get through because I kept tearing up. It was even more difficult to read, making proofreading it impossible. I can only read it in chunks; I can’t imagine how it reads to the average person.
Social media response to it was swift and emotional. I received a deluge of e-mails, tweets, comments, text messages, messages in bottles, carrier pigeons, all of it—of love, of support, of positive energy, everything. It was incredible. It was overwhelming. It meant the world to me.
I also learned a quick and dirty lesson—well, five of ’em—about not only depression, but the way we talk and think about it. Here’s a few:
1) The number of people who have experienced depression, after childbirth or otherwise, is high. The number of people admitting to it, however, is low. The way I felt after admitting this experience, and then being met with so much love and empathy, it was freeing. So many people shared the parts of my post that resonated with them, so many people who may not’ve had children but have definitely had the depression, that it helped remove the feelings of isolation we experience with depression. It was helpful.
However, I also received an e-mail that talked about how the person appreciated having the space on my blog to share their story, because there was no one in her day to day life she could share that with and that, too, made her feel alone.
I’m thoroughly convinced that, when we interact with our loved ones from a place of fear, we only make it more difficult to connect with them. I don’t think the woman who e-mailed me is the only person in her circle to have experienced depression, not at all—I do think all of the people around her who’ve experienced it are possibly afraid or ashamed to admit it.
I think we have to create spaces where we can empathize with each other, build relationships with one another built on empathizing with the other person’s experiences and reminding that they’re not alone—or, if we’ve not been through what they’re going through, acknowledge that they’re still human, this does happen to real people, help them get the resources they need to get and be better, and just be a judgment-free space to share with another human being. (And, if you don’t have friends that can do that kind of thing, seek them out in spaces that interest you. I’m a book nerd—I make acquaintances in bookstores, libraries, and cafes all the time. I’m a gym bunny—I make acquaintances in… you get the picture.)
Those of you who felt like you are alone, you’re likely not. But, if you don’t have people in your close circle that you can talk to without shame or insensitive advice (“Oh, girl, you just need to get over that!”), don’t devalue your Internet communities. These are real people on the end of these screens, and they’re wanting people who want safe spaces from judgment, empathy, support to get through each day, encouragement to heal from trauma, and reminders that there’s always a tomorrow. Don’t be ashamed to take advantage of them.
2) On at least three occasions, people mentioned fearing that I might’ve been sent into depression because I might’ve been trying too hard to live up to people’s expectations of me for my weight loss.
I ain’t gon’ lie—I was definitely embarrassed by the weight gain, and the potential of having to re-lose weight all over again. This, ultimately, became one of those things I had to talk myself out of one good time, and then it never reappeared.
Part of what I think might be contributing to the unhappiness so many women feel after childbirth is the pressure to go back to being socially desirable. We’re supposed to be barefoot and pregnant, but not actually look like we’ve ever been pregnant. We should never deviate too far off from our original level of “attractiveness” and, if we do, we should understand that this is grounds for our partners to renege on their vows (or promise of monogamy.)
Or maybe that’s not the source of the pressure, at all. Maybe you stress out over not being attractive enough when you return to work, or being able to properly fit the work uniforms, or any other number of frustrating things that depend on a woman’s body resembling an ideal. For me, it is literally a part of my career, or is it?
One of the things I told myself is that I just had a baby. My partner and I brought a life into the world. He wasn’t telling me to lay off the body obsession because he was placating me, or because he worried about what it would do to my mental health. He was telling me to knock it off because it turns me into a vessel for carrying future people, and ignores the fact that I am a person, myself. A person who has to heal, readjust, take the time to love and appreciate and value childbirth and what it means, and spend a moment enjoying my child. He was right.
We’re too hard on women. And, as women, we’re taught that being this hard on ourselves is how it is, how it goes, how it should be. Our friends might not get it, but in the privacy of our own homes, we can opt out of that. It takes time to readjust our lives to include the new baby, and you can always add in an exercise routine or a shift in your diet when you’re ready. I wasn’t ready and, no matter how sad I feel when I walk past a gym and hear the clang of weights being racked or see a run group pass my be, I know I’m still not ready. The readiness makes me sadder than the weight, trust.
But the readiness is also why it’s so important to me to get my head together first. I owe it to my kids and my partner, but I also owe it to myself. We don’t have to take on more than we are ready to handle and, if that includes not worrying about weight until later on, then so be it.
3) Shame impacts more than how we communicate with each other—it impacts the kind of care we seek out for ourselves, too. So many people are ashamed to admit their depression, to the point where they’re embarrassed to get therapy, and ultimately are ashamed to be on anxiety-reducing mediation or anti-depressants. People often speak so scornfully of medical intervention—distrust of big pharma (valid), arguments about taking the easy way out (less valid), and other less credible arguments often cloud the overarching and, ultimately, most important concern here: a person’s life is on the line, and medical science is able to offer support.
Therapy is one of those things that falls under the umbrella of “white people shit,” and I get that. We’ve discussed it here, before. Where “white” becomes a synonym for “wealthy,” we do ourselves a disservice. Not only are more of us upwardly mobile in a way where we have health care that includes therapy or an income that can afford it, but mental health is such a serious matter (!) in the 21st century, that numerous cities across the U.S. have initiatives to get mental health care to people who might not otherwise be able to afford it on their own. There are community centers that offer support groups. And yes, most medications have generic versions that still provide the same level of care.
I’m not getting away from my core message, here—I’m still very much a natural living type*, but I’m not so dogmatic that I ignore the real life situations that could cost someone’s life or, even if not life and death, may severely impact their lives. I know what it’s like to have suicidal ideations, or to envision harm being done to my loved ones. I’m not on medication, but if I reached a point where the people who loved me most could lose me or each other, I would be in an instant.
Don’t let the dogma of the people around you impact the care you allow yourself to get.
4) People tend to make the mistake of believing that because some of us can find our way out of depression that we all should be able to equally find our way out. It literally never works like that.
Your depression might not resemble what your friend is expressing. She might be going through much worse. She’s not being dishonest, being a drama queen, or being extra. It’s just how it is. We’ve all experienced “periods of sadness,” where we “felt depressed,” but for many of us, it’s more complicated.
We think that “tough love” and t-shirt slogans are the way to help people out of this, instead of just listening to them. We don’t always have to have the answers. Sometimes, we think hard conversations have to end like they do on TV, where one person spills their guts and the other person has The Answers. We don’t have to have them, we just have to have a shoulder for our friends to lean on. My best friend of almost 25 years is god for saying,”Well, I don’t know, but I do know that sucks.” And that laughter is enough to lighten the mood.
5) The idea of resilience really stood out to people—not just because it helps them acknowledge that yes, struggling hurts, but also because it allows them to honor a part of themselves that obviously has value. We pride ourselves on still standing after everything that has been thrown at us. Telling us that we shouldn’t be proud of surviving is akin to asking us why we’re struggling to begin with. But we should be—we should be proud to be here, but it’s not strength that keeps us here. It’s the ability to recover, to bounce back, to heal, to grow, to evolve, and to ultimately learn and thrive. Researching addiction and rehabilitation is what taught me about resilience, but Brené Brown’s Rising Strong (if you use my link to purchase the book, Amazon pays me a few coins for referring you!) is an entire book that discusses the concept more in-depth.
There are countless examples of what makes the Internet a horrible place everywhere. And I do mean, everywhere. But, what’s more, I believe that we can create communities both online and off that become spaces for healing, rehabilitation, and yes, resilience. I’m so glad to have you, and I hope you value this space as much as I do. <3